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Woolwich ponders appeal of biogas plant approval

In approving a biogas plant for Elmira, the province is “spitting in the face” of residents, says the head of the citizens’ group fighting the project. This week’s decision came as a shock to Dr. Dan Holt of Elmira Bio Fuel Citizens’ Committee, who felt the government had heard the public’s message and was prepared to see the plant moved to a site elsewhere in the township. Instead, Bio-En Power Inc. has been cleared to build the facility on Martin’s Lane, just north of downtown Elmira.
“It flies in the face of everything that’s been done – we made a case against the location and found a better place, where they actually want it (the plant),” he said of the provincial decision. “It’s kind of like spitting in the face of everybody who lives here.”

Notified that the project had been cleared to go ahead – receiving what’s known as a Renewable Energy Approval – Woolwich officials are now looking at the township’s legal options to appeal the decision. Addressing the issue in council session Tuesday night, Mayor Todd Cowan said he was “extremely disappointed” with the outcome, calling for quick action on the appeal front. “We’re not giving up. We’re going to continue the fight,” he said in an interview Wednesday, expressing frustration that the province didn’t follow through on its assurances that a solution could be found.

Cowan said he has spoken to officials, including the minister of the environment and minister of energy, on several occasions about finding another spot for the plant. He was left with the idea alternatives would be in the works. Monday’s announcement came out of the blue, without so much as a heads-up warning in advance.

Council is looking for some legal advice before launching an appeal. Anyone opposed to the decision has 15 days from Mar. 26 to submit a formal appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal. For Woolwich Bio-En, the approval comes with a long list of conditions to be reviewed before the next move can be considered, even in the absence of an appeal process. Away on vacation this week, company president Chuck Martin was reached by email: “Significant changes to the original application have been discussed with the MOE. I am anxious to review the approval as issued. I need to review both the approval and the recent amendments to the FIT program to better understand the project status and possible timelines,” he said.

“ If there are no major hurdles in the approval or the FIT program changes, then construction in 2013 and operating in early 2014 may still be possible.”

The 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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