Once a contentious issue, an Elmira biogas facility’s plans for changes to its operation was met with only support at Woolwich council this week.
Woolwich Bio-En Inc. has applied to the province for some adjustments to its operating parameters, including increasing its feedstock – amount of materials on hand – to 110,000 tonnes from 70,000. It also wants the number of truck movements increased to the original 160 per day up from the 80 permitted today.
Company president Chuck Martin told councillors meeting June 18 that drafts of the deal with the province had the 160 figure – essentially 80 trucks in and 80 trucks out, for 160 movements – but the figure was changed unilaterally, either by accident or design.
Average daily truck traffic over the past three years has come nowhere near either figure, at 22 truck movements per day, though plant manager Derek Martin noted the facility has hit the 80 per day on a couple of occasions since it opened.
Bio-En is also proposing to make renewable natural gas for sale rather than as fuel for the generators that create electricity. With the company’s electricity contract with the province likely to expire eventually, the sale of natural gas would diversity the operation and let it continue on afterwards, said Chuck Martin.
Also under review is a bid to permit Bio-En to sell organic materials to other biogas facilities during times of surplus and to buy materials from those operations when needed.
Since opening in March 2014, the plant, which converts organic waste into methane that is in turn used to generate some 2.8 megawatts of renewable electricity – enough to power 2,200 homes – and 3.4 mW of heat, has been operating largely under the radar. That’s in contrast to the public concerns raised before it was built.
Since that time, Martin pointed out, the facility has diverted some 300,000 tonnes of waste material. It generates enough power to meet 12 per cent of Elmira’s electricity needs even at peak demand.
“That’s a fairly meaningful impact,” said Martin.
The resultant liquid waste is sold as a fertilized to some 60 farmers. The operation acts as a carbon sink, with very conservative figures putting the amount of carbon dioxide reduced by 9,000 tonnes.
The plant is held in high regard, and regularly hosts visitors from other municipalities from far and wide, Martin said.
“It’s truly been a success story in the last five years,” said Coun. Murray Martin.
In response to a question from Coun. Scott McMillan, Martin said the facility takes in organics from the green-bin programs from the likes of Peel Region and Simcoe County, noting Waterloo Region has a contract to send its green-bin materials to a plant in Guelph.
In addition to municipal streams, the biogas facility receives materials from companies such as Conestoga Meat Packers, Dare, Frito-Lay and Cargill.
Noting traffic issues were a big concern in the run-up to the plant’s opening, Coun. Patrick Merlihan said the average truck count had been fairly low, adding that even with the proposed changes, only a few extra trucks would visit the facility.
Based on 2016 traffic studies, said Martin, the intersection of Arthur and Church streets sees some 15,310 vehicles per day. The Bio-En changes would add another five or six into the equation.
The bulk of the incoming trucks pass through that intersection from, while most of the outbound trucks head north from the plant instead, he added.
Last year, the facility had about 20 days where it saw more than 60 truck movements, but the operation could use the flexibility, particularly if the operators ever had to drain down the storage tanks in short order.
“There are some days we would like to have the 80 or more,” said Martin.
The proposed changes, which don’t involve any expansion to the plant, fall under the province’s jurisdiction, with Martin’s Tuesday night appearance in council chambers an attempt to keep the township in the loop.