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Metro Vancouver lowers bar for incineration alternatives

The Vancouver Landfill in Delta is owned by the City of Vancouver. - Black Press file photo
The Vancouver Landfill in Delta is owned by the City of Vancouver.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver will set a lower bar for emerging waste-to-energy technologies to be considered when it calls for bidders to build a new plant to consume a big chunk of the region's garbage.

Proponents must have recently operated a reference plant somewhere in the world where they can prove their technology processes at least 25,000 tonnes per year of municipal garbage.

That's a much lower threshold than Metro staff had previously envisioned but a majority of the regional district's zero waste committee endorsed the change Thursday.

It's also a lot less than the 370,000 tonnes per year in extra waste-to-energy capacity the region plans to build by 2018.

The compromise aims to satisfy Vancouver councillors, who oppose conventional garbage incineration outright but – after failing to block it entirely – want to give alternative technologies a fighting chance of being chosen.

On the other side of the debate are directors who think mass-burn incineration will ultimately be the most efficient, cost-effective solution and fear Vancouver's quest for a greener, newer system may prove unworkable, too costly or both.

Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer had proposed to set the bar even lower – at just 15,000 tonnes processed by emerging technology a year – but other directors rejected that.

"That is scary for me," said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who supports incineration as a tried-and-true option.

He suggested Vancouver is happy to fight incineration not simply out of aspirations to be seen as a green city, but because it owns the Vancouver Landfill in Delta, where it has cheap garbage disposal that's separate from Metro's system.

"They've got the Vancouver Landfill at a significantly reduced cost compared to what all the rest of us are paying."

Reimer rejected that accusation, saying Vancouver council is not pro-landfill.

"We would love to get out of the landfill business," she said, adding she fears that if the region invests in mass-burn incineration it will end up "feeding the beast" – sending too much garbage to be burned – instead of finding better ways to recycle more of it.

Metro's board will vote at the end of October on the final procurement strategy, which starts with a request for qualifications to identify qualified proponents and their technologies.

A separate call will seek potential sites – both in and out of region – for the new waste-to-energy plant or plants.

A short list of proponents would then be matched with sites and they would bid in 2014 in a final request for proposals.

After a winning bidder is picked in early 2015, the project would go through an environmental assessment and other permitting.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said he wants Metro staff to consider not just the costs of a new plant but the revenue it might generate from the sale of electricity, heat or other byproducts.

"To me it's a much bigger picture than just the cost of the facility and choosing the cheapest one possible," he said.

Hunt also proposed – as a way of mollifying Vancouver – that staff ensure at least one non-incineration technology gets short-listed.

But that was shot down when Corrigan and others said it would be wrong to deem a proposal to be qualified that wouldn't otherwise pass that test.

Metro staff said they are confident non-incineration options will be proposed and will qualify for consideration on their own merits.

The Metro board last month ordered the committee to reconsider the procurement process to make it easier for emerging technologies that have had less time to prove themselves.

Metro is also edging towards what it promises will be extensive consultations on the entire process.

Regional meetings in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley would happen early next year to outline the process to the public.

But that's expected to be just the start of years of public input sessions as each stage unfolds.

About 280,000 tonnes per year is burned at the existing Burnaby waste-to-energy plant.

The region intends to stop trucking trash to the Cache Creek regional landfill, reduce dumping at Delta, boost the recycling rate from 55 to 70 per cent and later 80 per cent, and process the undiverted garbage at waste-to-energy plants.

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