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Flyer campaign launched in biogas debate

A glossy flyer that showed up in every Elmira mailbox this week is the latest salvo from a group fighting plans to build a biogas plant in the north part of town.

Under the banner of “stop the stink,” the Elmira Bio Fuel Citizen’s Committee (BFCC) is calling for residents to get vocal with concerns about the facility, which would convert organic waste into electricity. Flyers were delivered to all 4,100 homes in Elmira.

With the flyer, the group hopes to get a direct message out to every Elmira resident, ensuring the issue stays top of mind, said High Street resident Ed Speers, an organizer behind BFCC, launched last year by neighbours of the proposed plant on Martin’s Lane.

“We’re urging people to contact their elected officials to let them know where they stand.”
Because the Ontario Green Energy Act removes authority for energy-producing projects from local hands, the decision about Bio-En Power Inc.’s proposal will be made at Queen’s Park, which is why the flyer provides contact information for provincial representatives.

The lack of local accountability is disappointing, said Speers, lamenting the loss of a chance to sway township councillors in the same way opponents to development at Victoria Glen park in Elmira were successful in halting those plans.

“That makes it quite a bit different – it’s challenging.”

Among those who received the flyer in their mailboxes this week was Chuck Martin, president of Bio-En, who described the piece as misleading, even if well done.

Saying that some of the information was wrong, he noted the overall effect was to paint a damning image of the proposed facility using “scare tactics” rather than facts. Many of the numbers cited, for instance, are upper limits included in the paperwork, not the number that will be reflected in the operation. Opponents say there will be 80 trucks a day – the number in the application – rather than the seven to 15 forecast, said Martin.

“‘Bio-En wants to try something that has never been done before,’” he said, reading from the flyer. “Not true. This technology has been used widely.

“‘Thousands of trucks will pass through Elmira.’ Not true.”

Some of the claims in the flyer are literally true, but are presented out of context, Martin added.
“Yes, there will be organics and, quite frankly, some of it will be rotting. We will have some materials that give off odours – but it’s our job to capture those odours,” he said, explaining that the odour-causing materials are precisely the ones used to create biogas, which in turn fuels a generator to create electricity.

For Speers, however, the goal is simply to foster awareness and debate.

The neighbours aren’t opposed to the principle of diverting waste to electricity generation, only to the location of the plant. To that end, action is necessary, he said.

Along with having residents contact local and provincial politicians, BFCC is also raising money to pay for scientific experts to review and challenge technical reports prepared by Bio-En.
“We haven’t given up yet. We’re going to fight this.”

Mayor Bill Strauss said Woolwich council would be happy to hear from residents, but has no jurisdiction over the proposal. The township did submit comments to the MOE, but hasn’t received a response.

“I know the feelings of the residents,” he said. “Until we hear more from the ministry, there’s not much we can do.”

Bio-En submitted its final paperwork to the province two weeks ago. The Ministry of the Environment has up to six months to review the proposal, but a decision is likely to come within a month or two.

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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