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Energy-from-waste facility closer to realization

“It’s not easy. There’s a lot of moving parts. … If anyone were to ask me do you think we got a project? I’d say yes, we got a project. We have a multi-national corporation that wants to partner with us. We’re developing memorandums of understanding and it’s moving forward.”

BOW VALLEY – The Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA) has a location and now they have a partner for the site.

Hitachi Zosen INOVA (HZI), a Switzerland-based energy-from-waste company with projects on three continents, was selected by the SAEWA board in late January to partner with creating an energy-from-waste facility in southern Alberta.

“We’re very fortunate to have a multi-national corporation with experience in this area that wishes to partner with SAEWA,” said Paul Ryan, a vice chair with SAEWA.

“SAEWA had an idea. We thought we knew how to do it and we hired a very good internationally known engineering firm to help guide us and that’s how we got to where we are now.”

Ryan said SAEWA and HZI are working on a detailed memorandum of understanding, which could take upwards of six months but is promising for the coming years of realizing the project.

He noted the interest from multiple international companies that he called “giants in the field” helped bring the project closer to reality since first beginning in 2009.

“This has so many moving pieces. This is not a simple thing to do,” said Ryan, a former long-term councillor in the MD of Bighorn. “If it was easy, it would already be done by now. … Garbage isn’t going away.”

SAEWA had narrowed expressions of interest in late 2021 to three international companies in SUEZ Canada Waste Services Inc., a joint submission from HZI and ACCIONA and Covanta Energy.

HDR Engineering – who are SAEWA’s engineers and were part of the Durham York Energy Centre’s creation in southern Ontario – went through the proposals. After they vetted the bids to see what could and couldn’t work for the selected site, HZI was recommended.

“HZI is delighted to have been selected by SAEWA to deliver a cost-effective world-class energy-from-waste facility for the communities, businesses and municipalities of southern Alberta,” said Stuart Mander, the director of project development for HZI in a media release.

“When operational, the new plant will be equipped with HZI technologies such as HZI’s own reciprocating grate and our state-of-the-art boiler whilst ultimately being designed to fully comply with the most stringent emission limit requirements to satisfy the high demands placed on modern energy-from-waste facilities.”

The plan had been to move forward more quickly, but the 2021 municipal election saw significant turnover in SAEWA’s board and saw the selection pushed back to early 2023.

“The process has been long, but rewards to the board and our members to finally get here,” said Tom Grant, SAEWA’s chair in a media release.

Ryan estimated optimistically they’re two years from the procurement stage, but he’s expecting it to be shovel-ready in about four years. They can, however, begin consultations such as with Indigenous peoples, community outreach and environmental studies.

SAEWA was first established in 2009 with the aim of creating sustainable waste management practices to help become more efficient with resources and be environmentally impactful for the region. The non-profit group is comprised of more than 60 municipalities in largely rural areas of southern Alberta.

The idea of waste from energy is not new, but has been gaining traction across the globe as environmental concerns are pushed to the forefront.

The Durham York Energy Centre was the last such facility built in Canada in 2016. It converts roughly 150,000 tonnes of garbage into electricity, with roughly a tonne of garbage supplying enough electricity to a home for about a month.

The facility was created as the region shipped most of its waste to Michigan – a common practice in Ontario – but when the state threatened to close its borders to garbage, it forced regions to think differently.

While landfills are largely opposed across the world due to potential environmental impacts, noises, increased traffic of trucks hauling garbage and smell, Ryan said the energy-from-waste facility has a greater potential to eliminate those risks.

“We’re never going to please everybody, but what’s our real mission? Our mission is to make sure that we can move away from reliance on landfills and the potential for groundwater contamination,” he said.

Ryan noted landfill closure costs are expensive, with provincial regulations often needing continued maintenance and inspection upwards of 50 years after a landfill has closed.

However, for the project to proceed at an estimated price tag of $600 million upper levels of government are needed. Ryan compared it to provincial and federal funding of regional services such as transit, water and wastewater and the addition of a corporate partner highlights the closeness to the project’s fruition.

“It’s not easy. There’s a lot of moving parts. … If anyone were to ask me do you think we got a project? I’d say yes, we got a project. We have a multi-national corporation that wants to partner with us. We’re developing memorandums of understanding and it’s moving forward.”

The County of Newell was selected in 2020 after 11 sites were narrowed down as possibilities after SAEWA received $400,000 from the Alberta Community Partnership fund. Vulcan County had also been recommended, but the Newell 15-hectare site was zoned for waste management, allowing for a quicker transition to building a facility.

The area is also on the Trans-Canada Highway and near major utilities that would be able to be tied into the grid to create energy.

Ryan said the establishment of the facility would also create long-term certainty for shipping costs and have a more centralized location.

In selecting the site, the Pembina Institute found greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by roughly 230,000 tonnes a year or seven million tonnes throughout the project’s lifespan.

When the project is completed, it would help increase the lifespan of the Francis Cooke Landfill and Resource Recovery Centre with less material waste being sent to the site and diverted to the energy-from-waste site.

The Francis Cooke site had a roughly 35-year lifespan, but in 2022 the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission approved a new lime cell to be constructed. The cell would push the lifespan to between an estimated 60 and 65 years.

The energy-from-waste facility would also allow for less waste to be buried in the ground, a method commonly used for dealing with waste, and reduce the carbon footprint in trucking garbage long distances.

In the Bow Valley, large amounts of waste are sent to the West Dried Meat Lake Regional Landfill in Camrose County, which is about an eight-hour round trip from the valley.

Ryan said members also have more influence on tipping fees to provide more cost certainty, which could add to the long-term financial incentive.

“You’ve got the ability to have long-term planning on costs and you can influence tipping fees. The municipalities become partners and not clients,” he said.

“The project is going to ramp up really fast and the municipalities that are members of SAEWA have a ticket on the bus, but there’s only so much room on the bus. I hope municipalities who see it as a possible benefit to their municipality should show up sooner than later because there’s nothing worse than having to buy a ticket from a scalper.”