Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. is exploring the concept of building a waste-to-energy facility on Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River mill site. It plans to participate in Metro Vancouver’s solid waste management plan, which was approved by the province last year. The plan includes goals for diverting 70 per cent of the region’s waste through recycling, composting and other programs by 2015, increasing to 80 per cent by 2020. The plan also includes building waste-to-energy facilities, either within the region or outside it, to handle about 500,000 tons of post-recycled waste annually.
There are a number of communities that are interested in hosting such a facility, including Gold River, New Westminster, Burnaby and the Tsawwassen First Nation. These communities have shown an interest because a facility could heat and power other buildings as well as produce biofuels. Of course, they are not blind to the tax revenues that a waste-to-energy facility would also generate.
Waste-to-energy refers to a wide range of technologies, including combustion, gasification and anaerobic digestion.
There are approximately 430 waste-to-energy facilities in Europe and 86 in the United States. Currently, Japan uses waste-to-energy to treat more than 75 per cent of its waste. Canada, with its large land base, treats three per cent of its disposed waste using waste-to-energy facilities.
As with any controversial issue, waste-to-energy has strong opponents, who raise important environmental and health questions. Some of the issues involved with such facilities include greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and the disposal of ash.
The concerns will be weighed against the benefits, which include the obvious jobs and tax revenues. The facility could create an energy-hub, attracting other industries to the area. Presumably, the region would also dispose of its waste at the facility, which would lower taxes for everyone.
Powell River residents will have many opportunities to participate in public processes associated with the proposal. City of Powell River officials are considering holding a referendum to gauge community support. Hopefully, Powell River Regional District will be involved in this as well if it goes forward, as the facility would impact the entire region.
While there is a long process ahead, now is the time to gather information so an informed decision can be made. It’s important to have an open mind during these early days to help sort through the flood of information that is about to descend on us.