Metro Vancouver’s existing Burnaby incinerator has just renewed its deal to sell power to BC Hydro. Critics say Metro shouldn’t be allowed to count waste-to-energy as green power that gets a premium price. — image credit: bing.com
Articles in the Abbotsford News and Tri-Cities Now report that local (and non-local) Chambers of Commerce are calling for the rejection of a bylaw proposed by Metro Vancouver that would restrict the flow of waste and control various waste-related activities within its jurisdiction. Bylaw 280, if enacted, would create a municipal waste monopoly and allow Metro Vancouver to direct all residual waste to a planned half-billion-dollar incinerator in a few years.
The Chambers of Commerce are unanimous in expressing concern that the monopoly “flow control” legislation will allow Metro to hike prices without accountability, and undermine competitive local private-sector waste markets. They view this as generally bad for waste-generating businesses, that benefit from competition and lower disposal prices. There’s also a concern that Metro Vancouver’s plan envisions charging “renewable power” rates that are four times the rate for regular power that, in addition to being a subsidy, are pretty hard to defend when you’re burning waste.
I share these concerns but with some differences: the Chambers of Commerce are focusing mostly on a very narrow price problem with the bylaw.
From the articles (which I reproduce below) it’s clearly cheaper to export the waste to Abbotsford, from where it’s sent to a landfill in Washington State. Regional disposal costs $107 per tonne, whereas export is $70/tonne. But that’s not a satisfactory comparison in the long run. Setting aside its incineration idea, Metro Vancouver is legitimately trying to get residents and businesses to comply with aggressive waste diversion targets, starting with anything that can be recycled and, more recently, with organics collection and processing. I don’t support a system that allows businesses to avoid high diversion rates “just because it’s cheaper” to send it somewhere else, where aggressive recycling doesn’t happen.
I would support a bylaw requiring that all businesses achieve high diversion rates, and that only allows post-recycling, post-composting residual waste to be exported (outside the region or the country); or that allows waste export if the waste diversion activities of the final destination match those of the original jurisdiction. If Bylaw 280 was all about that, I’d lend it my support.
Unfortunately, Bylaw 280 is part of a waste plan that’s somewhat a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It not only allows Metro Vancouver to control the whole waste system in a centrally-planned way, but to also prevent private companies from building mixed-waste material recovery facilities (MWMRFs) that could use mechanical equipment to recover very high amounts of recyclable materials such as fibre and plastic containers. (Such plants are especially effective at recovering recyclables from the waste generated by certain businesses and the high-rise and multi-residential sector, which is notoriously more contaminated than waste from single homes.) The bylaw would restrict owners of such plants to handling post-diversion residual waste containing only tiny traces of such materials. This, of course, would make such plants economic non-starters, because those are the materials with financial value. There’s no point building a multi-million-dollar recycling plant just to function as a waste transfer station.
Why would Metro Vancouver want to do this? Because it needs those same recyclable materials for its proposed waste-to-energy incinerator, and its official waste plan contains plenty of language that envisions managers of the system directing whatever amount of burnable plastics and fibres are needed to allow their incinerator to burn hot enough to remain efficient. In other words, Bylaw 280 is the legal mechanism that would allow Metro Vancouver to cream off the high-BTU recyclable materials it needs for its incinerator, and to prevent those materials from ending up at MWMRFs built by the private sector.
So, beyond the simple issue of “higher prices” I feel the Achilles heel of Metro Vancouver’s plan and its proposed Bylaw 280 is the predatory way it displaces investment and innovation from the private sector in advanced recycling systems. Even the possibility of this waste-to-energy plant being built is a disincentive to aggressive recycling and private sector innovation and investment, at least as long as this bylaw is under consideration. What ought to happen is Metro Vancouver should allow and even encourage the private sector to build recycling plants and MWMRFs to boost diversion rates above 80 or even 90 per cent. Then, and only then, should it construct a final disposal option for that final 10 or 15 per cent of waste that truly cannot be diverted. (Which also begs the question: Why allow those materials into the economy and waste stream in the first place?)
Fact is, that final fraction will likely be of low calorific value and better suited to disposal in a landfill than in a large incinerator, which goes against the paradigm wagon to which Metro Vancouver officials have hitched their fortunes.
But what if I’m wrong? What if, after maximum diversion has been achieved by MRFs, MWMRFs and other means, there’s still residual waste suitable as fuel for an incinerator? Well, that’s the time to build one, and likely a smaller one than what’s being considered today. It’s be prudent for Metro Vancouver to evaluate such an option and look for sites and solicit designs from different companies, in case such a plant is ever needed.
But Bylaw 280 — with its power to create a waste monopoly and its sly way of diverting recyclables to an incinerator — needs to be scrapped, and we call upon the government of the Province of British Columbia to reject it.
(FOOTNOTE: I’ll be at the Municipal Waste Association conference in Hockley Valley on Wednesday; anyone attending please feel free to say hello!)
The Abbotsford Chamber and the BC Chamber are calling on the provincial government to reject the proposed bylaw, which critics say will be used to ensure that there is enough fuel to justify a building a new garbage incinerator.
A news release from the Chamber states that the bylaw sets the stage for tipping fee hikes on businesses that could amount to up to 100 per cent or more within a few years in order to fund operating and capital costs such as a new waste-to-energy incinerator.
“This bylaw effectively dismantles a market-driven waste management system and installs a monopoly – and the fees that go with that,” said John Winter, president and CEO of the BC Chamber. “If this bylaw goes forward, Metro Vancouver would have the unilateral power to hike tipping fees at whim, and with zero accountability.”
Mike Welte, president of the Abbotsford Chamber also voiced concern with the bylaw for shutting private industry out of providing cheaper, greener solutions to Metro Vancouver’s waste management needs, such as mixed-waste material recovery facilities (MRFs).
“MRFs are an integral component of the Fraser Valley Regional District’s Solid Waste Management Plan,” said Welte “They are a more effective tool to maximize material recovery from waste without threatening our fragile air shed in the Fraser Valley.”
“Private industry is ready and willing to put its money on the table, and take on all the financial risk, to help Metro exceed its waste reduction target before more tax dollars are invested in disposal options,” he said. “Metro Vancouver needs to take a good hard look at those opportunities, rather than barrelling forward with a plan that leaves taxpayers and businesses on the hook for a $500 million incinerator that we simply don’t need.”
John Winter said that the BC Chamber and the Chamber network across the region stands opposed to both proposed bylaw and the broader incinerator plan.
Among other things, the Chamber network has voiced concern with the incinerator project’s business plan, which is premised on securing funding from two tiers of government plus achieving BC Hydro preferential rates for electricity produced.
The BC Chamber and its partner chambers are calling on Metro Vancouver to pursue a more thorough examination of private-sector solutions to its waste management needs, with a focus on its own stated goal which is to maximize recycling and material recovery.
“Thus far, all viable options have not been on the table,” Winter said. “And we’re convinced that Metro Vancouver region can, and must, do better.”
The Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce has joined its counterparts across B.C. and the Lower Mainland in opposing a proposed Metro Vancouver bylaw the groups say will reduce competition and undermine regional waste diversion efforts.
Metro Vancouver’s Bylaw 280 would require garbage generated in Metro Vancouver to be processed at regional facilities and not taken to other areas to avoid higher tipping fees and waste bans.
Metro Vancouver says the bylaw is needed to prevent undermining of its waste management strategy.
It says the region’s $107-per-tonne tipping fee is being undercut by fees of about $70 per tonne in Abbotsford, where the waste is exported to a private landfill in southern Washington state.
In opposing the bylaw — which still requires provincial approval — the chamber suggests local waste processors would face increases in the range of 45 to 100 per cent if the bylaw is passed.
“Anything that significantly increases the cost of doing business without a value-added benefit cannot be good for the local economy, said Michael Hind, executive director of the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, in an e-mail to the Tri-Cities NOW.
Those fees, according to the chamber, would be passed on directly to businesses that hire waste companies to haul their materials.
The chamber also suggests the bylaw would “constrain the waste management market,” reduce competition and create an unfair playing field for smaller waste haulers.
“This bylaw effectively dismantles a market-driven waste management system and installs a monopoly — and the fees that go with that,” said John Winter, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber, in a press release.
“If this bylaw goes forward, Metro Vancouver would have the unilateral power to hike tipping fees at whim, and with zero accountability.”
Bylaw 280 has been sent to the provincial minster of environment for approval, though no timeline has been given on when a decision will be made.