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Metro Vancouver incinerator economics rely on inflated energy prices


Metro Vancouver's existing Burnaby waste-to-energy plant.

Metro Vancouver’s existing Burnaby waste-to-energy plant.

NOTE: This article was edited on April 30 to correct a typo in which the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) was spelled as GVRD or “Greater Vancouver Regional District” which is the old name for what is now Metro Vancouver. We regret any confusion this may have caused.

It appears that straight economics may undercut Metro Vancouver’s argument that building one or more large waste-to-energy facilities is a good idea. Setting aside the usual objections against waste incinerators that relate to human health and environmental effects, local opposition is now focusing on the economic assumptions behind the idea.

Metro Vancouver faces a problem with its incinerator idea from the get-go, as it’s opposed by the cities and regions in and around it. The Fraser Valley Regional District opposes the project. You have to believe that Metro Vancouver and the FVRD breath the same air and share mostly the same values.

On April 25 the FVRD issued a media release pointing out that the assumptions behind Metro’s economic calculations for the project assume the market rates it will obtain for the electricity produced by the plant will be four times the regular rate (i.e., about $100/Gwh compared to $24/Gwh). It bases this on its being able to classify the electricity as “green power.” The FVRD questions this, pointing out that much of the energy will come from burning plastics, which are made from non-renewable fossil fuel. This is quite unlike wind, solar or tidal power, etc., for which subsidies are tolerated only because the environmental effects are negligible non-existent and the power is available forever.

The idea that power derived from waste is “green” is questionable in the first place. But it’s disturbing that Metro Vancouver wants power uses from across the province to absorb the costs of its waste-to-energy plant via this subsidy. This, on top of the fact that Metro is using bully-boy tactics with its proposed Bylaw 280 to prevent private companies from building mixed waste recycling plants that would pull high levels of recyclable plastic and fibre from the waste stream — especially the more contaminated wastes from the multi-residential sector. Those plants would cost taxpayers nothing (compared to the half-billion-dollar cost of Metro’s proposed incinerator) and could boost diversion above 80 per cent or higher. (The problem is Metro wants the BTUs in all those un-recycled plastic containers and fibre packaging to feed its incinerator and allow it to run hot; if all that material gets recycled the incinerator would burn inefficiently and not make much sense.)

There may be arguments in favor of the incinerator but these arguments from the FVRD pose a real challenge. I reproduce the FVRD media release below, and also an article from the Coast Reporter about Metro Vancouver’s postponement until next year of public consultations over proposed sites for the plant.

 

Here’s the FVRD media release:

MEDIA RELEASE

April 25, 2014

For immediate release

Metro Vancouver Bills Entire Province for New Incinerator

CHILLIWACK, BC – Metro Vancouver has just released details of an updated business case for its garbage burning plan. The FVRD believes the business case is flawed for many reasons, including its assumption that Metro Vancouver can secure above market rates for electricity.

As it turns out, the financial viability of a new garbage incinerator hinges on their ability to classify the energy it produces as “clean or renewable.” Metro Vancouver’s own numbers verify that much of the garbage that will be burned is recyclable plastic, itself produced from fossil fuel. Contrary to Metro Vancouver’s hopes, energy produced from incineration is neither clean nor renewable as per the BC Clean Energy Act.

The market rate for electricity in BC is about $24/Gwh. According to a recent filing to the BC Utilities Commission, Metro Vancouver is asking BC Hydro to pay four times that amount ($100/Gwh) for electricity generated from incineration after they reclassify it “clean or renewable”. “If such a deal were to be made, all BC Hydro ratepayers across the entire province would be subsidizing Metro Vancouver’s incineration scheme” said Patricia Ross, Vice Chair of the FVRD. Metro Vancouver has noted that unless they can secure this dramatically higher rate, the business plan for their incinerator is simply not viable.

“The people of BC don’t deserve to be green washed, nor can they afford it” responded Ross. The FVRD asks that anyone in BC who is concerned about their BC Hydro rates rising due to Metro Vancouver’s garbage burning scheme to contact the BC Utilities Commission to voice their concerns. Erica Hamilton is the Commission Secretary at the BCUC and can be reached at commission.secretary@bcuc.com.

Metro Vancouver has called a last minute meeting of its Zero Waste Committee to discuss the implications of the updated business case and possibly a significant postponement of planned public consultation. This meeting will occur at 9 am on April 28th, 2014 at Metro Vancouver’s offices on 4330 Kingsway in Burnaby.

Paul Gipps
Chief Administrative Officer, Fraser Valley Regional District, 604-702-5033, pgipps@fvrd.bc.ca

 

Here’s the article from the Coast Reporter:

(source: www.coastreporter.net/article/20140425/SECHELT0101/304259976/-1/sechelt/metro-puts-incinerator-consultations-on-ice)

Metro puts incinerator consultations on ice

Metro Vancouver has cancelled public information meetings on its controversial incinerator project, including one that had been set for May 24 in Gibsons, and Metro officials say they don’t expect to engage the public until next year.

April 25, 2014

John Gleeson/Staff Writer

Metro Vancouver has cancelled public information meetings on its controversial incinerator project, including one that had been set for May 24 in Gibsons, and Metro officials say they don’t expect to engage the public until next year.

“The notion of community consultation meetings are on hold and are likely to be on hold till the new year,” Metro communications officer Bill Morrell confirmed Tuesday.

The decision came to light on April 17, three days after Nanaimo city council rejected a proposed Duke Point site, when Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chief administrative officer John France told directors he had received word of the changed plans that afternoon from Metro CAO Carol Mason.

“The project is on hold pending a review of the whole process,” France reported to the SCRD’s planning and development committee.

In fact, Morrell said, only the public consultation phase is on hold, but the site selection process is continuing.

“Metro is still going through the procurement process,” he said.

Morrell said the original plan was to have a two-phase process that would first review previously announced sites — including Port Mellon — and then follow up with additional sites that had been submitted by landowners under a separate request for proposals. Instead, it “became more logical” to review all the sites together.

“I think obviously it became apparent that to do a fair comparison we have to have all the sites announced,” he said. “It’s a matter of having a process that’s cohesive and allows us and the public to look at all the sites at the same time.”

Morrell said he expected Metro to decide on the feasibility of six undisclosed sites by late spring or early summer, but it could take longer to negotiate options on properties or lease arrangements, as well as ensuring the waste-to-energy technology is appropriately matched to the proposed use.

For the Port Mellon site, proponent Aquilini Renewable Energy said its $500-million incinerator would provide power to Howe Sound Pulp and Paper and closed containment coho salmon farms, while captured carbon dioxide would be used for a pharmaceutical algae farm and a greenhouse operation.

France, in his report to the planning and development committee, said Mason also indicated the community engagement process would not take place until next year.

He said he told Mason that the SCRD does not support the burning of waste.

At the same meeting, directors passed a recommendation from the natural resources advisory committee for the SCRD not to support the incinerator project “due to lack of pertinent information regarding project scope and due to the numerous potential deleterious effects.”

Concerns include: airshed sensitivity, distribution of harmful emissions (particulates, lead, furans, dioxins), management of waste prior to incineration, residuals management, leaching of toxins from waste material into groundwater, increased marine traffic, unknown incinerator technology, carbon emissions, and the cumulative effects when added to current industrial activities.

 


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