The project may be environmentally friendly, but the environment will be anything but friendly when neighbours of a proposed biogas energy plant get their say at a public meeting Feb. 24 in Elmira.
Some residents surrounding the site in the north end of town are concerned about the potential for odours and noise coming from the plant, which will convert organic waste such as manure into biogas, subsequently producing electricity and steam heat.
The plan by Woolwich Bio-En Inc. would see a $12-million facility built at 40 Martin’s Lane, located on industrial land behind the Elmira Pet Food plant. The cogeneration unit would produce 2.8 megawatts of renewable electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and 3.4 mW of heat.
Currently, the plan is under review by the Ministry of the Environment and the Township of Woolwich. The former is looking at the impact under the Environmental Protection Act, while the latter oversees the actual site plan. The proposed use already conforms to the township’s official plan and zoning for the site.
While supportive of the project’s aims, High Street resident Ed Speers is uneasy about the potential impact on the neighbourhood. He wants much more information before he makes up his mind, and before any approvals are granted.
“It may be just fine – there may be no cause for concern – but I just don’t know,” he said in an interview this week. “There needs to be a little more discussion that what we’ve had.”
A letter circulated to surrounding homes by Bio-En’s consultants, Conestoga Rovers & Associates, read “like it’s a done deal,” prompting Speers and some three dozen neighbours on Arthur, Charles, George and High streets to respond with remarks of their own. Among the concerns are the potential for odour leaks, noise from truck traffic and the dangers posed by the production of methane gas.
The reaction wasn’t unexpected at the Elmira head office of Bio-En.
“It’s not a surprise to us that they’re concerned. The challenge for us is to educate them … and to address their concerns, said Chuck Martin, president of Bio-En Power Inc.
The open house Feb. 24 at Lions Hall should help address those worries, he added.
Bio-En’s plan employs technology widely used in Europe. The Elmira operation will be built in partnership with an Austrian firm experienced in using biogas for cogeneration.
“There are thousands of these being used in Europe. I’ve got pictures of one of the Austrian units literally right next door to a tennis club on one side, and daycare centre on the other. It operates with no problems.”
The Austrian technology uses an anaerobic digester to convert organic material into biogas and fertilizer. It will be fed by waste material, including livestock manure, food waste, used cooking oils and other fats and the like. A diesel generator converted to work with methane will generate electricity to be sold back into the grid, while steam heat produced could be sold to neighbours such as the pet food mill. The liquid fertilizer that comes out of the other end of the process will be sold to farmers, Martin explained.
An entirely closed system, there is little chance of odours escaping, he said. The entire process would be carried out indoors, with the only emissions being the exhaust from the generator – similar to a household furnace – and the venting to exchange the air, as trucks will drive right in to the building. All outgoing air will pass through a biofilter.
“This system works very well in Europe. This isn’t a problem. This is a solution to a problem.”
Each megawatt of electricity generated though this renewable process diverts 7,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, Martin said, pointing to the environmental benefits.
Seeing the benefits, Speers said the neighbours are concerned about what happens if the plant doesn’t operate as advertised, noting odour issues would have a negative impact on property values.
“We stand to lose a lot if things don’t go well,” he said, calling for a public body similar to the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee to oversee the project and some recourse if there are problems.
“We can’t just hope for the best and see how it works out.”
Like the neighbours, the township is concerned about the potential for odour complaints, and will be looking to the MOE process to ensure the operation minimizes the chance of leaks, said Jeremy Vink, Woolwich’s senior planner.
The township is waiting for the MOE to make a ruling on the certificate of approval before finalizing the site plan agreement.
The public information open house for the proposed biogas project is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Feb. 24 at Lions Hall in Elmira.