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Biogas debate heats up as comment period starts to wind down

The clock ticking on the comment period, Woolwich has come up with a list of suggestions it wants the province to consider as it reviews plans for a biogas facility in Elmira.

The public has until Aug. 21 to provide input on the project, which has been the target of vocal opposition. Stripped of any regulatory power by the Green Energy Act, the township has no direct say in the process – it can only make comments, like everybody else.

In the report approved this week by councillors, however, the township makes it clear the energy-producing facility does not comply with its zoning bylaw and Official Plan.

Dan Kennaley, director of engineering and planning, called on the Ministry of the Environment to review the suitability of the location: the site in the north end of Elmira has been the most contentious issue because of its proximity to residential areas. The township also wants an assessment of the impact of truck traffic, as well as a peer review of the studies submitted by the applicant, Woolwich Bio-En Inc.

If the project is approved, council wants to see the establishment of maximum noise, air and odour standards for the operation, along with detailed procedures for dealing with non-compliance issues should problems arise.

A community opposition group called for additions to the township’s comments, looking for council to take a harder stance against the project.

Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach, representing the Elmira Bio Fuel Citizens Committee (BFCC), suggested some additions to the township’s concerns, including provisions for assessing the quality-of-life impacts.

Addressing council Aug. 9, he challenged the assumption the project was green simply because it will use waste material to generate electricity. Trucking in material from long distances, he said, will decrease the “energetics” of the facility. Coupled with “a constant stream of garbage trucks,” increased truck traffic and the risk of worsening Elmira’s “smelly reputation,” the negatives could outweigh the positives.

In a later discussion, BFCC member Michael Purves-Smith, who attended the council meeting, said the green aspects of the generating station would be lost on the traffic and odour problems caused people to get into their cars and drive out of town rather than visiting the core.

Already home to a higher than average amount of truck traffic for a community of its size, he said, Elmira would be worse off for an estimated 60 or 70 additional truck passes each day. Those numbers could increase if other businesses are encouraged to set up shop on the adjacent industrial land to take advantage of the heat energy that will be created by the biodigester providing the gas to fuel the generators.

He, too, called for the safeguards against the potential negative impacts of the facility.

“We’re behind green, but we don’t want to have to correct it after the fact,” said Purves-Smith. “There still is considerable resistance to this idea.”

Acknowledging the opposition in a presentation to councillors Tuesday night, Woolwich Bio-En president Chuck Martin said there’s also a substantial amount of support in the community. While not vocal, those people are in favour of alternative energy options.

Likewise, the township’s comments to the province covered only negatives rather than noting the positive aspects, he added, pointing to other communities such as Grimsby that have embraced the technology, even putting forth their own projects.

“I’m disappointed that’s not evident in this community,” said Martin of the township report.

Although not addressed at the council meeting, efforts to find another location for the project remain ongoing, but appear to have stalled. Thus far the company has received no assurances its place in the queue of Ontario Power Authority’s alternative energy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) projects. The company is open to the idea of moving the site, but not if that means losing its current agreement and having to start a new application process behind 32,000 others now in line, said Martin.

Bio-En has a site-specific contract to connect to the grid from its current proposed location. There’s been no indication that can be transferred, which could render moot any negotiations about MOE approval elsewhere and what to do about costs the company has incurred to date.

“If we can’t move the contract, there’s no point talking about all the other stuff.”

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.

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.

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  1. There is good reason why dump sites aren’t historically located in such close proximity to residential areas, schools, churches or the downtown core. There is also good reason for property close to garbage facilities to be worth substantially less than the same land would be worth elsewhere.

    And of course three out of four routes to the proposed Bio-En Site will take the open trailers of waste through the town.

    Which is why it would be a very good idea to say “No” to locating the biogas dump in town. MOE contact info is available at the Stop The Stink blog.

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