Metro Vancouver's existing Waste-to-Energy Facility in south Burnaby

Metro ‘crazy’ to name WTE sites ahead of technology

Region kicks off informal search for garbage incinerator locations, partners

Metro Vancouver is launching an informal 90-day process to identify potential sites and operators of a new waste-to-energy (WTE) plant to consume more of the region’s garbage.

But some directors fear it’s a recipe for panic in their cities if prospective sites are named this fall because Metro won’t yet know what technology – incineration or some alternate method – will be used.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said it’s “crazy” for Metro to identify locations without being able to tell fearful neighbours what might actually be built there, adding some WTE systems may be much less contentious than others.

“That is the best possible way to stir up a community in ignorance and fear and they have every right to that,” Hunt told the Metro board Friday. “This process is doomed to failure.”

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves also objected, saying the process should be geared from the outset to make low carbon emissions a top priority.

Despite the concerns, Metro is proceeding with the “market sounding” process, which aims to test the waters this summer to assess the readiness and intent of prospective proponents ahead of a more formal procurement.

Based on the results, Metro would later call for bidders to step forward, who would then be short-listed and then bid through a Request For Proposals (RFP) after the region makes key project decisions and sets bid evaluation criteria.

Metro solid waste manager Paul Henderson said the province’s approval of the region’s solid waste plan and its directives from the environment minister require that sites – both in region and out of region – as well as technologies be all considered in parallel, not in a particular order, through a competitive process.

“We’re bound by the plan,” added Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro’s Zero Waste committee.

“This is seen as way to go out to market and get some better idea of where we might be going than if we just throw it out to an RFP and then try to sort it out at that point.”

Project proponents who have lined up possible sites won’t have to reveal them during the market sounding.

But land owners or potential host cities will be able to step forward this summer and propose their sites for consideration.

Having a portfolio of alternate sites at hand could allow Metro to later decouple a proponent and its technology from their site and place it at a different site Metro prefers.

Officials hope to drum up as many proponents and viable sites as possible to maximize competition and get the best deal.

Metro will identify broad zones in and outside the region where WTE sites may be best suited.

It will also set criteria for weighing sites, including the proximity to district heating users, the required site size, proximity to transportation, air quality impacts, zoning and nearby land uses.

There’s been past talk among either proponents or host cities of building a new plant at sites in New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey or the Tsawwassen First Nation lands.

There are also proposals before Metro for out-of-region sites, including Gold River on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which would add to garbage transport costs but ease concerns in the Fraser Valley, where residents fear a Metro incinerator will worsen air pollution.

Henderson said between 10 and 20 WTE project proponents have had some level of contact with Metro so far.

The region’s waste strategy calls for it to stop sending garbage to the Cache Creek Regional Landfill, which takes 500,000 tonnes of waste per year.

A new waste-to-energy plant was to be built to take at least that much garbage, but  Metro downsized the plan this spring, estimating it now needs extra disposal capacity of 250,000 to 400,000 tonnes per year due to declining garbage volumes.