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Public cautious about biogas plant

Most of the 100-plus people who showed up Tuesday night at an open house at Lions Hall in Elmira weren’t there to support a biogas facility in town. Some came out looking for information, perhaps not convinced one way or another, but the feeling was akin to every other meeting involving plans to use waste to generate electricity: skeptical.

Many of the comments heard in the hall revolved around the potential odours emanating from a plant that would convert organic waste to methane, which would in turn power a generator.

Bio-En Power Inc. president Chuck Martin (left) speaks with Elmira residents Brad and Cheryl Fisher at Lions Hall Tuesday night.
Bio-En Power Inc. president Chuck Martin (left) speaks with Elmira residents Brad and Cheryl Fisher at Lions Hall Tuesday night.

“I’m in favour of green energy, but this is taking too big a chance. There’s a history in Elmira that clouds the issue here,” said High Street resident Ed Speers, an organizer behind the Bio Fuel Citizen’s Committee (BFCC), launched last year by neighbours of the proposed plant on Martin’s Lane.

His comments echoed those of many nearby residents, who point to a history of odour-emitting industries in the area as the number-one reason to put the operation somewhere else.

That history – the north end of Elmira has been home to issues related to, among others, the former Rothsay rendering operation, the Uniroyal/Chemtura chemical plant and the pet food mill – has residents expressing their worries to Woolwich Township, noted Coun. Sandy Shantz.

“You can see why they’re concerned.”

Although the project has been discussed since 2008, the public still has many questions, reservations and misconceptions, as evidenced by the comments. That’s why the open house can be useful, allowing people to ask for those answers, explained Chuck Martin, president of Bio-En Power Inc., which plans to build the facility.

“Some people have suggested we should build it away from town – out in the country somewhere – but we can’t do that.”

Having spent a year and half looking for a location, the company found that all of the requirements quickly eliminated many spots. In order to work, the facility needs to be located where it can tap into the electrical grid, close to customers for its steam heat and near to sources of materials. Most notably, the business can’t be run in an agricultural setting, but has to be established in an industrial area such as the one in the north end of Elmira.

“What we have is a very good location for a variety of reasons,” said Martin, noting that while even the township has recommended a remote location, it’s been unable to provide one, let alone one that would meet provincial guidelines.

And it’s the province that will have the final determination whether or not the project goes ahead. Under the Green Energy Act approved last year, municipal governments no longer have a say in the decision-making process.

This week’s public open house was part of the Ontario government’s new plan for streamlining the application process for alternative-energy projects.

The Austrian technology proposed for the Bio-En 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 $12-million facility would generate 2.8 megawatts of renewable electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and 3.4 mW of heat.


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