“Oh, look at that! Bloody favouritism!” is spoken by the ancient prisoner in response to his cellmate being spate at in the face in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The lament felt by the ancient prisoner is what providers of advanced thermal treatment (ATT) systems are feeling with respect to their opportunity to cash in on the potentially lucrative solid waste market in Ontario.
The perception is that the Ontario government is favouring one plasma gasification company over other ATT with a proposed regulation. If promulgated, the regulation will open the gate to allow for demonstration of “new” environmental waste treatment technologies without the need for the time, expense and uncertainty associated with the environmental assessment process. Oddly, it does this for only one company.
For those unfamiliar with plasma gasification, it involves the use of a plasma torch at temperatures between 3,000 to 8,000 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-starved environment to completely decompose input waste material (into very simple molecules, in a process similar to pyrolysis).
Some plasma gasification systems are designed without a stack. The products of plasma gasification are syngas and a vitrified solid residue.
The proponent and proposal
Plasco Energy Group (“Plasco”) was formed in the spring of 2005 from two companies, RCL Plasma, Inc. and Plasco Energy Corp. It is a private Canadian company that holds a patented plasma gasification process. It currently operates a small-scale plasma facility in the Ottawa, Ontario area.
The President and CEO of Plasco is Rod Bryden. Best known as the former owner of the Ottawa Senators, Mr. Bryden is Chairman of SC Stormont Inc., which participates in the development of small to mid-sized Canadian businesses.
The proposed Ontario Regulation, aptly named the Plasco EAA Regulation after the proponent company, will allow Plasco to gasify 75 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day and up to an additional 10 tonnes per day of high-carbon, municipal waste (i.e., non-recyclable plastics) to generate electricity using plasma arc technology. The demonstration project would yield approximately 5.2 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Plasco’s proposed demonstration facility is to be located on the closed Nepean Landfill in the City of Ottawa.
The Plasco Regulation allows the company to operate the facility for two years without being made subject to the EAA or the hearing requirements under the EPA.
The justification that the government gives for the regulations is that it allows the company to confirm that the technology can process municipal solid waste to generate electricity in an efficient and effective manner. Unfortunately for Plasco, it’s also only delaying the inevitable as an EA will be required for a full-scale facility.
There are a number of ATT companies who have contemplated building demonstration/pilot facilities in Ontario but have not done so due to the cost, uncertainly, and time associated with EA. The hurdle was just too high to justify the investment. With this proposed regulation, Plasco has temporarily removed that hurdle.
I asked the Ontario Ministry of the Environment some simple questions in relationship to the Plasco EAA Regulation. Specifically, I asked if the proposed regulation was an indication that the ministry is now open to demonstration projects without requiring an EA or a hearing under the EPA? The response from the ministry was as follows:
“The Plasco Energy Group’s technology … makes this proposed demonstration project unique as the technology doesn’t fit into any definition in existing laws. It doesn’t fit the conventional definition of an electricity project under the Electricity Projects Regulation, and it does not qualify as an incineration project as defined in the [ministry’s] guideline.”
What to do
My recommendation to ATT providers is to get in line for your personalized regulation. Despite the fact that I think that the Ontario ministry’s method of allowing technology demonstration projects is unmanageable and unclear (would it not be better if there was one “Demonstration Regulation”?) it seems to be an opening for companies that want to demonstrate that their technology works, is safe and is economical.
The goods news for the environmental industry is that it can be viewed as an indication that the Ontario government has removed the barrier of EA or EPA hearings for demonstration projects. The next step needed for technology companies is more certainty around the EA process when it comes time to get approval for a full-scale system.
John Nicholson is a management consultant with Environmental Business Consultants based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail John at email@example.com