The public meeting of the City’s Infrastructure, Transportation and Safety Committee met on Friday, December 17, 2019 to discuss the proposed Renewable Natural Gas Project. This blog post is an attempt to bring out some of the main points of that meeting, in the hope of furthering informed discussion. A much more detailed description of the meeting is available in the minutes of December 17. The Beacon Herald has published their own analysis of Friday’s meeting. as well as a letter to the editor that was heavily critical of the project.
While few question the value of removing 49,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases yearly from our atmosphere, there have been arguments against the project from the beginning, and at the December meeting Councillor Sebben proposed a halt to the project, citing problems with the location, as well as concerns over financial risks (Will we be able to maintain a profitable level of green waste input from other communities? Can we rely on governmental support past the election cycle? What will be the role of private enterprise?) Councillor Sebben’s proposal was referred to the next meeting of council on January 13.
It was a long and fairly contentious meeting, and my notes get scrambled here and there, but I thought Councillor Burbach’s statement supporting the proposed project was the most comprehensive, and I am using it here to outline the arguments of Council, balanced with comments from citizens who spoke at the meeting (in italics).
- PRO: Removal of greenhouse gases will have local and global benefit. We would be protecting our children’s future.
Ann Carbert: we must reduce emissions to 45% and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Donna Sobura: What is included in the carbon reduction footprint? (fuel, oil, expelled gases, deteriorated concrete)
Louise McColl: supports the project, time is running out. This is not new technology, it’s in use in Europe.
- PRO: Project fits in with Council’s strategic plan of last year, commitment to move to zero waste.
Bob Verdun: pollution issues are not addressed
- PRO: We would be upgrading infrastructure. We have a city asset that will need to be upgraded in the near future. This project allows us to do that now.
Louise McColl: cost is concerning, but will be quickly recouped
- PRO: This will be a revenue-generating project that in the end will pay for itself, by taking in waste from other municipalities. When we move away from natural gas technology in 10-15 years, we’ve paid for the project and probably generated revenue as well.
Bob Verdun: has concerns about the reliability of the waste disposal industry. Why the rush on this project?
Dorothy Van Esbroeck: questions the economics of the project.
Kirk Roberts: concerned that he has not seen the business plan, claims he has been denied access under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy act as a third party is involved.
- PRO: We will extend the life of our landfill, and save on the cost of exporting green waste elsewhere.
Bob Verdun: unwise to import green waste. City has not seriously considered garburators, which could feed green waste into the system.
Donna Sobura: what are the measures used to recognize whether the project is working?
- CON: Location in a flood plain, next to a river. This was poor planning 70 years ago, but the costs of moving the plant would be astronomical. Councillor Burbach stated that experts have assured Council that the level of risk at the facility would remain the same whether the project goes ahead or not. She recommends upgrades to infrastructure (upgrade of West Gore).
Blaize Monostory: the sewage plant emits toxic substances into the Avon River and has caused medical problems
COUNCIL RESPONSE: Our treatment plant does not emit toxins.
- CON: Truck traffic. As someone who lives less than 50 meters from Huron Street, Councillor Burbach is very aware of the pressing traffic and safety issues. She proposed some remedies that should be implemented whether the project goes ahead or not. (Traffic buffers, section of 3-lane road, short-term parking lane, landscaping.)
Donna Sobura: the number of trucks will rise as the processing escalates.
Lloyd Lichti: increased traffic and the project itself will devalue property. Should relocate the facility.
The discussion will be continued at the regular Council meeting on January 13, including:
- whether a 20-year agreement with FortisBC can be guaranteed;
(The city has had preliminary discussions with FortisBC, and could enter into an agreement to be a supplier.)
- whether Ontario Clean Water Agency is willing to invest more than $1.5 million due to the increase in capital cost for this project;
(Capital costs will be approximately $22.7 million.)
- confirmation that additional capital costs do not impact the City or any future Municipal Service Corporation;
- a cost estimate for the construction of a private access road to the back of the plant for trucks to exit;
- confirmation that there will be available organics for the project for at least 10 years.
All in all, it was pretty inspiring to see so many people turn up to participate in local democracy. The meeting was very well run, although some of the citizen questions remained unanswered. Perhaps this would be a good time to update the FAQ on the city website, which was written in July. Hopefully we will have a good turnout on the 13th.
EDIT: The original version of this post credited the Council statement to Councillor Ingram, when it was actually Councillor Burbach who spoke. My apologies to both councillors for the error.