Planning and implementing a new waste-to-energy (WTE) facility is technically, environmentally, economically, and (perhaps of most importance) politically complex. These projects require a significant investment of time, research, negotiation and sacrifice with a constant focus on strategic planning and decision making.
In 2004, Durham and York Regional Councils directed staff to proceed with an environmental assessment (EA) process to establish a long-term, local and sustainable waste disposal solution to be incorporated as a key component of the Regions’ long term integrated solid waste management systems. This direction was provided to address increasing difficulties in securing long-term disposal capacity and increasing costs of transportation of waste across the Canada/US border. At that time, and until very recently in Durham’s case, the Regions relied upon long-haul shipping to Michigan landfills for managing their post-diversion residual wastes.
In Ontario, only the most difficult and complex municipal projects are subject to approvals as individual EAs under the Environmental Assessment Act process. The EA Act requires the proponent to identify the problem at hand, provide justification for the proposed project, and identify the potential environmental impacts caused by the project, while consulting with the public, agencies, stakeholders, proponents and opponents. This can be a very long and arduous process, with some EAs for disposal facilities lasting 10 or more years. When all is said and done, if the regulators are satisfied approval is usually granted.
The EA was the most significant and most debated approval undertaken by the Regions. Pursuing this approval was never thought to be an easy task in a province where only 10 years earlier waste-to-energy had been banned. Advancing the project was further complicated by external factors such as: older thermal treatment facilities had recently been closed due to poor environmental performance; landfilling was cheap; and, the politics of the day shied away from controversial waste management issues. Despite these many challenges, the Regions felt a long-term waste management solution was necessary and critical decisions, sometimes unpopular, were made. At times the debate polarized the politicians at various governmental levels along with the public.
Five-step approvals process
Implementation of the project essentially consisted of five key steps. The first step developed the “Road Map” for completion of the study and once everyone agreed to the approach (including the Ontario Ministry of the Environment) the actual study could be initiated. In Ontario, this “Road Map” is called the EA Terms of Reference (ToR), a challenging document to develop given the lack of precedence for this type of facility in Ontario in recent times.
The EA study commenced with a review of technologies capable of managing post-diversion residual solid waste, largely from residential sources. This technology review investigated everything from mechanical/biological treatment (MBT) with stabilized landfill to a range of thermal alternatives, some with a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) component, others without. It was necessary to complete this evaluation early in the process, so a conscious decision was made to focus the evaluation on “thermal technologies” and not to differentiate, at that point, between more traditional mass burn technologies and new and emerging conversion technologies. This differentiation would come later as part of the procurement process where more “concrete” data could be obtained and evaluated. This second step of this process concluded that thermal treatment with materials and energy recovery was the preferred option.
Once a technology process had been identified, the third step of the study was to identify a site to construct and operate the facility. The siting process was likely the most controversial of all aspects of the project. Up to this point there was very little opposition. However, once dots started to be placed on maps, the opposition grew and also became organized.
It was decided that the Regions would select a site before soliciting proposals from vendors for several reasons. First, it would allow proposals to be evaluated on an “apples-to-apples” basis. Second, it was deemed a fairer process if every vendor had the same site by focusing the evaluation on their technology versus their ability to secure a preferred site.
The traditional siting process started with an initial screening, followed by the identification of a long-list, then a short-list and finally a preferred site. What was critical to the success of the siting process was that the approach and evaluation criteria were developed in consultation with the public and approved by both Regional Councils before the site selection process was initiated. This way, the preferred site was selected through a process developed with the public, and without the participation and pressure of the emotional NIMBY participants. In the end, polling suggested that 85 per cent of the residents were in favor of the facility. However, with the vocal minority dominating the public meeting process, you’d think differently. Ultimately, a preferred site was identified in Clarington, Ontario.
With a technology and site in hand, the fourth step was to identify a specific thermal treatment technology vendor. This was a two-phase process that utilized a Request for Qualifications to short list the number of vendors and technologies, followed by a Request for Proposals to select a single preferred vendor. From this process, Covanta Energy Corporation was identified as the preferred vendor to design, build, operate and maintain the facility.
The final step in the EA process – now in its fifth year of study – was to complete site-specific and vendor-specific impact assessments. Of all the studies completed, the most important was the human health and ecological risk assessment. The results of this assessment provided the political decision makers the reassurance that they were approving a facility that could be built and operated without impacting the health of their constituents.
The EA process came to closure on November 19, 2010, with the issuance of approval by the Ontario environment ministry.
The Durham/York situation is not unique. Many Ontario municipalities who relied on Michigan for their disposal needs faced the same issue: “Where do I bring my post diversion residuals once the Michigan option is gone?” In 2004, Durham and York Regional Councils made the decision to establish their own local waste disposal infrastructure and to build an integrated and sustainable waste management solution. The Councils declared that the days of shipping waste into someone else’s backyard were over. To see this vision through to execution took a tremendous amount of effort and political will. However, the precedent that this project sets could force a change in the waste-to-energy industry, setting a new standard for how new facilities are developed, operated, and regulated in the future. In addition, the implementation of this project shows that, after more than a decade, a greenfield WTE facility can be developed in North America and that such systems are, once again, a viable component for residuals disposal as part of an integrated waste management system.
Jim McKay is with HDR Inc. in St. Catharines, Ontario. Contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org
The proposed facility has an initial approved design capacity of 140,000 tonnes per year (tpy) and with expansion(s) a maximum design capacity of 400,000 tpy. The Regions have contracted Covanta Energy Corporation as the design, build, operate and maintain contractor. Covanta and its team members are planning to start construction of the plant in 2011 with full operation scheduled for 2014.
At the approved design capacity of 140,000 tpy, there will be two completely independent waste processing trains at the facility. Each train will consist of a f
eed chute, stoker, integrated furnace/boiler, acid gas scrubber, a fabric filter baghouse and associated ash and residue collection systems. Steam produced in the boilers will drive an electrical power generating system consisting of one turbine-generator set, switchgear and an air cooled condenser, to produce electricity for delivery to the grid, for in-plant use and potentially to provide district heating and/or cooling to the neighboring Courtice Water Pollution Control Plant and Clarington Energy Business Park.
The facility will incorporate a state-of-the-art flue gas treatment design that includes: Covanta’s proprietary Very Low NOx system; a Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR) system with aqueous ammonia injection for additional NOx control; powdered activated carbon (PAC) injection for mercury and dioxins control; a spray dryer absorber (SDA) for acid gas control; and a fabric filter baghouse for particulate heavy metals removal. In addition to the standard continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS), the facility will also include a state-of-the-art continuous emissions sampling system for dioxins and furans.
To manage the hazardous fly ash component from the facility, Covanta will employ an innovative system that stabilizes the hazardous material onsite by fixing any potentially harmful elements in the ash using a mixture of Portland cement, pozzolan and water. The facility will be designed as a zero process water discharge facility, with only the need to manage stormwater, some of which will be captured and utilized for irrigation of the onsite vegetation.
The total price tag for the facility is $235.76 million (as of February 19, 2009). The annual operating fee for the facility is $14.67 million (as of February 19, 2009), excluding consideration of revenues from electricity or ferrous and non-ferrous recoveries. The plant will be designed to recover 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the metals received in the waste that can then be sold to recycling markets. Covanta has provided an electricity production guarantee of 767 kilowatt hours per tonne of waste resulting in a minimum of $8.59 million in annual electricity revenues, based on the agreement with Ontario Power Authority to purchase electricity at a fixed price of 8 cents per kWh.