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Woolwich busy behind the scenes in biogas review

Stripped of decision-making power over green-energy projects, Woolwich isn’t sitting idly by as the province reviews plans for a biogas plant in Elmira, says the township’s mayor.

Todd Cowan said he’s been talking with senior government officials about alternatives to the current proposal, which would see a methane-powered generating plant built in the north end of town.

“I can assure you that council is working on this.”

His comments seemed to mollify Bio Fuel Citizen’s Committee (BFCC) leader Dan Holt, who addressed councillors Tuesday night, detailing a long list of objections to the facility.

Under the new Green Energy Act, municipalities no longer have a direct say in the approval process for alternative energy projects, but that shouldn’t stop the township from lobbying against the Elmira project, Holt said.

The project in question is a bid by Woolwich Bio-En Inc. to use materials such as farm waste to fuel a facility generating electricity. Opponents argue the plant would create odour, noise and traffic problems as trucks hauled waste in and out of the site, adjacent to the pet food mill.

Holt said the materials used in the process – largely organic waste – could cause odour problems, both at the site and as trucks hauled it in. Truck traffic and the health impacts of diesel-fueled engines are another major concern for BFCC, which uses a figure of 160 trucks daily travelling in and out of the site.

That claim had Coun. Mark Bauman suggesting Holt avoid “fear-mongering” by using numbers fairly.

In case of truck traffic, Bio-En says the operation would see seven to 15 trucks daily. A top-end limit of 80 trucks is included on the company’s application in the event the entire contents of the generating plant had to be hauled out for maintenance, for instance. Given that the number doesn’t indicate if that would be one-way travel or in and out, opponents have been using a figure of 160 trucks.

Whatever the number, said Holt, the increased traffic and other risks are enough to warrant fighting against the project.

“We propose that this council not sit idly by,” he said, citing previous planning staff reports that detailed Woolwich’s concerns with the Bio-En application.

Earlier work related to a zone-change application from the Elmira company was set aside, however, when the Green Energy Act rendered that process moot.

That hasn’t prevented the township from staying involved, however, said Cowan, acknowledging the proposed facility was a big issue in last fall’s municipal election.
“We as a council and a township are working quite feverishly on this,” he said, suggesting alternative sites are under discussion. “It’s much easier to move things before they start putting holes in the ground.”
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 nearby industries.
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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