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Woolwich has no veto on biogas

Woolwich has reservations about plans for a biogas facility in Elmira, but can do little more than send comments to the province. Under the new Green Energy Act, municipalities have no say in the review of alternative energy projects.

That change of events left councillors somewhat frustrated Tuesday night as they discussed a list ofconcerns and suggestions, most notably the proposed location in the north end of town.

Given the potential for odour problems, the township would like to see a review of the location’s suitability, said director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley, explaining “not all green energy projects are equal.”
The plan by Woolwich Bio-En Inc. involves the construction of a cogeneration unit that would produce 2.8 megawatts of renewable electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and 3.4 mW of heat. The $12-million facility would be fueled by biogas created by converting organic waste to methane, which would in turn fuel a generator.

The proposal has nearby residents concerned, and the township wants the province to set maximum noise, air and odour standards for the facility, as well as setting up detailed regulations about what happens if the company doesn’t meet those standards.

In preparing the comments, councillors also heeded the advice of longtime Chemtura Public Advisory Committee member Ron Ormson, who recommended a traffic study be carried out and that the province conduct peer reviews of all reports submitted by Bio-En.

“There’s a whole lot of concern about this in the community,” Ormson said of the project.

Much of the concern stems from the location – the north end of Elmira has a history of issues related to, among others, the former Rothsay rendering operation, the Uniroyal/Chemtura chemical plant and the pet food mill.

While indicating support for green energy, Coun. Sandy Shantz noted the potential for another odour-causing facility has residents worried.

But Chuck Martin, president of Bio-En, noted that in Europe it’s common for this kind of facility to be located much closer to residential neighbourhoods. The facility would be at least 270 metres from the nearest home, which exceeds the 250-metre setback required for a farm to have open manure storage and other odour-causing operations. This operation would be carried out completely indoors, with many safeguards against odours.

Given the nature of the operation, the proposed site is ideal, he added, noting the plant could not be located on agricultural land. As well, the facility has to be close to a connection to the electricity grid, and in an industrial area where there are operations that can make use of the steam heat generated by the process.

“We’re in the right location – it just makes business sense.”

On the issue of truck traffic, he said the plant would have nowhere near the former volumes seen at the feed mill when there was a truck service centre on the site.

Agreeing that was the case from a business perspective, Coun. Mark Bauman nonetheless suggested he would like to see a compromise in which agricultural land could house this kind of facility.

The Austrian technology proposed for the facility 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 public will have a chance to learn more about the project and to comment on it at an open house scheduled for Apr. 6 starting at 4 p.m. at Lions Hall in Elmira.

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