GTA waste-to-energy?

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Courtesy of EcoLog Environmental Resources Group

While the City of Toronto will utilize its GreenLane Landfill Facility near London, Ontario to manage residual waste in the years to come, neighboring Durham Region (just east of the city) is potentially going in a different direction. Like Toronto, Durham plans to divert up to 70 per cent of waste from disposal, but intends to build a waste-to-energy (WTE) plant, rather than use landfill.

On May 28, Durham Regional Council accepted the business case -- a feasibility study -- for a proposed WTE facility prepared by Deloitte and Touche. Local dignitaries seized on the study's proposal to use federal gas tax funds to offset the huge capital costs of the project, suggesting the facility will be paid for in just a few years. They noted that the study didn't account for economic benefits from using steam in a district heating project, which would also reduce the use of fossil based heating fuels.

The business case includes analysis of WTE financial implications, potential budget and property tax impacts, and project risk assessment, based upon the business case report. Neighboring York Region (just north of Toronto) plans to send a portion of its residual waste to Durham, if and when the thermal treatment plant is built. Since 2005, Durham and York Regions have been working together to examine ways to manage residual waste. The Environmental Assessment's next steps include a number of site-specific studies to address any potential air, land or water impacts, in addition to related health concerns.

Objections

Citizens made presentations to Regional Council on May 28, saying the business case makes some very broad, unsupported judgments.

One citizen noted that in the Executive Summary, Deloitte and Touche indicate that waste-to-energy is 'A Healthy and Safe Solution' that is 'Safe for the environment.' What qualifies Deloitte to make these judgments and what documents support these statements, they asked? The conclusion contradicts findings of the Regions' own consultants, who identified incineration as the waste alternative with the greatest impact on the Region's already overburdened airshed. They also noted that the business case assumes that the Region will break its own resolution, assuming a diversion rate for the base case scenario of only 60 per cent from 2011 to 2019, whereas Council resolved to be at 70 per cent in 2010. By assuming less diversion, they argued, the consultants overstated landfill costs.

Deloitte did a sensitivity analysis for the WTE option to see what affect 70 per cent diversion would have on the projected WTE costs in the net present value analysis. However, as they didn't include a sensitivity analysis for 70 per cent diversion for the 'other Ontario landfill option,' councilors were unable to see how the landfill costs would have varied with the better diversion rate. Delegates also disputed the consultant's attribution of a net present value of the facility and lands of $80 million at the end of 25 years, and said that full application of the gas tax to pay for the facility hides the facility's true cost from taxpayers.

Readers can access the business case from the Region's website at www.region.durham.on.ca

This magazine will follow the arguments for and against the proposed facility in the next edition.

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