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Search begins for site of new Metro Vancouver garbage incinerator

Existing Metro Vancouver waste-to-energy plant in south Burnaby burns 280,000 tonnes of garbage per year. - Google
Existing Metro Vancouver waste-to-energy plant in south Burnaby burns 280,000 tonnes of garbage per year.
— image credit: Google

Property owners who want to host Metro Vancouver's next garbage incinerator will be asked to step forward over the next three months.

A formal call for public and private land owners to propose waste-to-energy sites will be issued next week by the regional district and closes Oct. 15.

Besides businesses and private land owners, local cities and arms of the provincial or federal governments are all eligible to advance possible sites for Metro Vancouver's consideration.

It's the latest stage in a complex procurement process for a new plant that's to be built by 2018 and consume 370,000 tonnes of garbage per year.

Metro has already solicited proposals on technology from companies interested in operating the new plant and has short listed 10 of them, based on their track record and other factors.

Most intend to build a mass-burn incinerator, although a couple of firms would use anerobic digestion or gasification.

It's expected many of the proponents will have separately optioned sites they consider suitable.

But Metro also wants a clutch of up to five more possible properties, one of which could be matched with an eventual winning proposal, in case it doesn't come with a secured site or its site is less suitable.

Metro is also looking beyond this region to sites in neighbouring regional districts, including those on Vancouver Island.

Metro board chair Greg Moore said notification letters sent out recently sparked some alarm among Island residents who feared Metro could build the new incinerator in a community like Nanaimo against local wishes.

"People were misinterpreting what we were actually asking for," he said. "We're not forcing this upon any local government or anyone in the province. We're just opening it up because the province told us to look out of region."

A plant site outside the Lower Mainland would eliminate air quality concerns in the Fraser Valley Regional District, where Metro's waste-to-energy plan has been under steady fire.

The environment ministry, in okaying Metro's solid waste management plan, directed the region to consider out-of-region sites and to work closely with the FVRD to address Valley concerns.

Moore said any sites proposed on Vancouver Island, for instance, would have to win the support of the local council to have a serious chance of being picked.

"I think we're going to have enough interest from municipalities and property owners who want to have a waste-to-energy facility located in their community that we aren't going to have to look at areas that aren't welcoming it," he said.

A few possible sites are already known to be tied to specific proponents.

Covanta Energy, which runs the existing Burnaby incinerator and is one of the short-listed proponents, has said it could convert an old pulp mill at Gold River on Vancouver Island.

Aquilini Renewable Resources has been talking to the Tsawwassen First Nation about a possible site on TFN treaty lands.

And Lehigh Cement in Delta would burn pre-processed garbage as an industrial fuel at its current site if chosen.

By the end of the year, Metro is to make public a short list of the five additional sites it would option for purchase.

The regional board aims to pick a winning proponent and final site (or sites – it has not yet ruled out multiple plants) by 2015.

Metro last week approved the site selection criteria.

Most of the weight (55 per cent) is to be put on environmental and social factors – air pollution, health risks, water quality impacts, greenhouse gas emissions from waste hauling, proximity to existing and future energy customers, land zoning and compatibility with surrounding uses.

Another 35 per cent of the weighting is on technical suitability of the site for construction and operations, including transportation of waste. Another 10 per cent would be based on the financial costs and terms of any option to purchase or lease the site, including any specific conditions or restrictions.

According to Metro, the low rating on the financial costs is because the price of land is expected to make up less than five per cent of total project costs, which could top $500 million.

Proposed properties must be at least three hectares.

Metro expects to pay market value, but some land owners – such as local cities that stand to benefit from a district energy network – may offer the land for less to increase their chances of success.

A staff report says the region retains the right to reject any site it deems unsuitable – for example ones in the Agricultural Land Reserve or others that pose "unacceptable risks."

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