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Metro Vancouver short lists waste-to-energy bidders

Metro Vancouver
Metro Vancouver's existing waste incinerator in south Burnaby burns 280,000 tonnes of garbage per year. A new plant or plants would increase waste-to-energy capacity by 370,000 tonnes annually.
— image credit: File

The company that operates Metro Vancouver's existing garbage incinerator is one of several bidders now short-listed by the regional district to build a new waste-to-energy plant.

Covanta Energy has hedged its bets with two proposals that were short-listed by Metro – one for a mass-burn incinerator and the other to build a gasification plant.

A total of 10 proposals out of the 22 received have been short-listed based on proponents' proven track record converting garbage into energy and the expertise of their teams.

Metro intends to add 370,000 tonnes per year of new waste-to-energy capacity, but the project is controversial and under steady attack from Fraser Valley critics over air quality concerns as well as others who see incineration as a threat to increased recycling.

Seven of the 10 proposals are for mass-burn incinerators.

Besides Covanta, they include engineering giant Aecom, Plenary Group Canada, Energy Answers International, Termomeccanica Ecologia, Wheelabrator Technologies and Aquilini Renewable Energy.

Aquilini has been in talks with the Tsawwassen First Nation to potentially base an incinerator on treaty lands there.

Another short-listed proponent – Lehigh Cement – proposes to pre-process garbage as refuse-derived fuel and then burn it at its Delta cement plant on River Road at Tilbury Island, offsetting its use of either coal or natural gas.

Energy Answers' incinerator proposal would also pre-process waste as refuse-derived fuel (RDF).

RDF systems typically dry garbage, remove inert materials and otherwise process the waste so it burns better and hotter.

The only other short-listed proponent, Mustang JFE, proposes to combine an RDF approach with anerobic digestion of organics along with gasification.

According to a Metro report, gasification systems typically convert waste to a gas stream that is directly combusted or can be converted into a syngas, which can be converted into a fuel or other product.

Proponents that didn't make Metro's short list include Chilliwack Bioenergy Group, as well as several other firms, some of which proposed lesser known technologies.

Some Metro directors had previously voiced concern the process would ultimately  result in a mass-burn incinerator, rather than the use of emerging alternative waste-to-energy technologies.

The Metro staff report on the short list notes Metro hired a third-party expert panel and a fairness advisor to ensure the procurement process is not biased in favour of any particular technology. The fairness advisor and third-party expert panel both endorsed the process to rate proponents and the outcome so far.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro's zero waste committee, said a new waste-to-energy plant would be far advanced from older ones.

"Improvements are being made to the technology all the time," he said. "There's great interest in this entire area within the professional realm."

Apart from the potential sites like Lehigh in Delta, Metro Vancouver residents are still a long way from learning if the new plant may be built in their neighbourhood.

Metro will ask for land owners who want to propose their properties to step forward this summer. Five short-listed sites, along with others that the short-listed proponents have secured, are to be made public later this year.

Metro intends to pick a site by 2015, which would later be paired with a winning proponent, which would complete the new waste-fired plant built by 2018.

Brodie said Metro has not yet decided if a single plant or multiple plants will be built, nor whether the final site will be in the Metro region or out of region.

Covanta is expected to offer to build its plant either within the Metro region or else at a former pulp mill in Gold River, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Covanta was criticized last year after its staff at the Burnaby incinerator were slow to notify the Cache Creek regional landfill that outgoing loads of fly ash had failed tests for leachable cadmium. Metro halted dumping of the ash at Cache Creek, pending more tests and a still-ongoing investigation.

As with the Burnaby incinerator, which burns 280,000 tonnes of waste per year, Metro would own it but the winning proponent would operate it. Metro would borrow the money to build the new plant – expected to cost on the order of $500 million.

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