Metro Vancouver's existing waste-to-energy plant in Burnaby. The region intends to build a new one – although multiple smaller plants have not been ruled out. The region is years from deciding on sites or the technology to be used.

Metro may burn special waste at new incinerator

'Extreme' wait pushes project decision out to 2015

A planned new waste-to-energy plant for Metro Vancouver might burn not just regular garbage but also special wastes that are now shipped out of B.C.

That’s the thinking of some Metro directors who argue an advanced new plant might be able to handle dangerous hospital waste, foreign waste from cruise ships or airlines and maybe even oil-contaminated soils or other materials.

“If we can deal with special waste in a state-of-the-art incinerator that would be a smart move to make,” Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan argued at Metro’s waste committee Thursday.

He said it wouldn’t make sense to keep trucking special waste to Alberta – emitting more carbon with each trip – if it can be handled here.

“I know we’re trucking out thousands and thousands of tonnes of soil with oil contained in it,” Corrigan said.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt also likes the idea of looking beyond municipal solid waste to see if a new incinerator can end the need to export special waste elsewhere.

“I think we should be dealing with our waste in our own region instead of putting it off to somebody else,” he said.

The idea was raised as Metro directors agreed they need 370,000 tonnes per year of new waste-to-energy capacity after the region stops trucking waste to the Cache Creek Landfill in 2016.

That would be the minimum size of the new waste-to-energy plant – about 30 per cent bigger than the existing incinerator in south Burnaby but less than the 500,000 tonnes per year Metro officials previously envisioned.

But it could be bigger if the region decides it could take more fuel from other sources, possibly garbage from communities on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast or Fraser Valley.

Corrigan said building in some extra capacity now may be cheaper and more efficient than having to expand later.

That talk worries directors like Vancouver’s Andrea Reimer, who wants to keep Metro’s disposal capacity as low as possible on the basis much more recycling will be possible.

The 370,000-tonne size is based on waste-flow projections and assumes Metro Vancouver’s population will grow to 3.4 million by 2040 and that each resident generates 10 per cent less garbage by 2020.

It also counts on the region hitting its 70 per cent waste diversion target by 2020 – up from 55 per cent now – although officials warn a higher recycling goal of 80 per cent may prove impossible.

Directors also decided the plant must be publicly owned, which could allow a Metro partnership with a local city and a private developer/operator, but not one where the company owns and profits directly from the sale of energy.

There’s been talk before the plant could go to New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey or the Tsawwassen First Nation within Metro, or to out-of-region sites like Gold River or Powell River, solving the air pollution concerns of opponents in the Fraser Valley.

But the regional district is far from choosing a site.

Metro will ask land owners interested in hosting the plant to step forward next year and would make the list public next September.

A decision on locating it inside or outside the region wouldn’t come until at least mid-2014.

Meanwhile, Metro aims to short list six waste-to-energy firms capable of building the plant and then winnow that further to three finalists who would be evaluated based on their technologies and sites.

The winner would be picked in 2015 and the environmental assessment and permitting would take until late 2016 before construction could start.

The plant wouldn’t open until late 2018.

Part of the long timeline is to allow extensive consultations with the Fraser Valley and any other affected communities.

Hunt said the “extreme” timeline is unavoidable but added he doesn’t like pushing the final decision beyond the 2014 civic elections, when a new board might unravel the project.

The wait doesn’t sit well with Covanta Energy, the operator of the Burnaby incinerator that has been working since 2007 to build a new incinerator at the former Gold River pulp mill and hoped for a speedier decision.

“The timing is a disappointment,” Covanta vice-president Christopher Baker said.

“We have to sit back and assess the process and determine if we want to be a part of it or not, based on the timing. It’s financially draining.”

Other firms that are likely proponents include U.S.-based Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., which is owned by Waste Management Inc. and has partnered with Urbaser of Spain, as well as Vancouver’s Aquilini Renewal Energy, which has had site talks with the Tsawwassen First Nation.

More than a dozen other firms were informally surveyed by Metro this summer and most intend to propose alternative technologies other than conventional mass burn incineration.

Five incineration firms told Metro they’ve already secured undisclosed sites – one within Metro and four outside the region – while two alt-tech firms said they are looking at possible in-region sites.