Waste-to-energy select committee rejects staff recommendation

The CVRD’s select committee for studying waste-to-energy needs more time.

That was the verdict after a more than two-hour-long presentation and discussion at the committee’s most recent meeting on Nov. 28.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) is the process of converting solid waste into energy or fuel sources, including electricity and/or heat. The WTE select committee — an ad hoc steering committee of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board — is tasked with studying the possibility of implementing such technologies into the Comox Valley and Strathcona Regional Districts’ waste management system.

Read More: CVRD considers waste-to-energy technology

Earlier this year, the select committee commissioned engineering consulting firm Morrison Hershfield to evaluate companies that offer WTE technologies.

Although six vendors were initially identified, only three were seriously considered — EcoWaste Solutions, Sustane Technologies, and WTT Netherlands BV. All three offer WTE solutions of some form, whether it’s through incineration of residual waste to create electricity or production of biomass fuel pellets from plastics.

In their assessment, Morrison Hershfield also evaluated the pros and cons of four potential locations where a WTE facility could be located in Campbell River, Gold River or the Comox Valley.

Konrad Fichtner of Morrison Hershfield presented for roughly an hour at the Nov. 28 meeting on what the consulting firm had determined. He spoke about what each vendor offered and what their operation would look like at the four potential locations, including how much each option would likely cost.

Fichtner concluded that the most cost-effective option would be for the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board to maintain its status quo — continuing to send solid waste to the Comox Valley Waste Management Centre and the Campbell River Waste Management Centre (until it closes in 2023).

While Fichtner acknowledged the benefits of WTE throughout his presentation — proven technology that lowers greenhouse gas emissions — he stated that implementing such solutions would add $31 to $110 per ton more to the CVRD’s waste management budget.

“We are looking at substantially higher costs than the current disposal strategy,” he said.

With the consultants’ findings in mind, CVRD staff recommended that the committee reassess the viability of WTE in 2022 as part of the first 10-year update of the region’s Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). The Comox Valley’s new landfill was only just built this year and started receiving waste in August. The SWMP would have to be amended and updated to accommodate new WTE technologies.

Read More: New engineered landfill open for business

But the committee members decided against staff’s recommendation, saying there are still too many unanswered questions.

Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield repeatedly said throughout the meeting that he disagreed with Morrison Hershfield’s cost-per-ton analysis, which stated the status quo option of continued landfilling would cost $82 per ton. He said they didn’t factor in a $4 million tax requisition and $130/ton landfill tipping fees into their cost comparisons.

“In the table, you’re listing the status quo cost of about $82/ton,” he said. “You’re comparing it to something that does source-separated recycling and organics, so you’re not comparing them straight across. If you look at what we charge per ton — which is $130/ton and a $4 million tax requisition — you’re looking at a huge cost.”

“The cost for source-separating recyclables should also be included in the cost-per-ton. Otherwise, you’re comparing apples to oranges.”

Comox Valley Area B director Rod Nichol, who chairs the WTE select committee, was also outspoken during the meeting. Nichol is a long-time proponent of WTE and largely responsible for the creation of the select committee earlier this year.

He said the long-term viability of the current waste management system is in jeopardy.

“We’ve got a new engineered landfill and the cost is $10 million, with a six-year lifespan. Presently, with our status quo, that’s costing us $40,000 a month. If we go to one of these WTE options that are only putting 10 per cent into that landfill, those six years become 60 years and that $40,000 a month becomes $4,000.

After more than an hour of discussion following Fichtner’s presentation, the committee voted to refer their questions back to CVRD staff. As per the decision, staff will work more with Morrison Hershfield and their answers will come back to the WTE select committee before the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board’s next meeting, which will take place in the new year.

The WTE select committee should provide the board its recommendations at that time.

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