Waste to energy  saving grace or insatiable fiend?

Waste to energy Ð saving grace or insatiable fiend? Yukon Energy is researching the possibility of using Whitehorse's solid waste to produce electricity. Its website says that would be after recycling and composting at current levels. It is saying the in

Yukon Energy is researching the possibility of using Whitehorse’s solid waste to produce electricity. Its website says that would be after recycling and composting at current levels. It is saying the incineration would be through a clean-burning gasifier. A side-product would generate heat that could be pumped into buildings.

The cost of this kind of development is in the neighbourhood of $30 million and the potential savings by using this form of waste disposal is approximately $5 million in diesel per year. To understand this a bit better, I talked to Janet Patterson, of Yukon Energy, and received the following helpful information.

One gigawatt hour (GWh) will power 80 nonelectrically heated homes. Once all Yukon Energy’s sources are online they will have 382 GWh renewable energy available to them per annum. The waste-to-energy proposal will provide 10.78 to 17.1 GWh per year, or approximately three to four per cent of the total.

While Yukon Energy talks about recycling and composting at current levels, Whitehorse was clear, in the April 14 council and senior management meeting. The city position is that compostable and recyclable materials were not to be included; there was no mention of “current levels” in the meeting’s minutes.

Yukon Energy is looking at biomass Ð wood Ð as a supply of fuel for the incinerator as well. They are viewing sources from southern Yukon and beetle-infested forests around Haines Junction. One has to consider just how much fuel will the waste-to-energy project require if it comes to fruition and at what cost to the environment and ecological systems in Yukon? Trucking wood from southern Yukon and Haines Junction has an environmental impact. I mention this because I believe these questions must be studied and given strong consideration as they could be the long-term results of a short-term solution.

It is admirable Yukon Energy is studying this issue to see if it is a feasible project, and what benefits and impacts it would have to our community.

On the surface, this project looks like a reasonable answer to the disposal of refuse. However, everything is not always as it first appears, so council must consider the broad picture.

The recycling industry is concerned about the amount of recyclables that would end up being diverted toward the waste-to-energy project should it become a reality. It must be made perfectly clear, ahead of time, whether Whitehorse is talking about current levels of recycling when it says no recyclables, or if they are being very specific in stating “no recyclables.”

By far, the majority of the recyclable and compostable material in Whitehorse is still ending up in the landfill. Less than 20 per cent of all waste material is being diverted from the landfill. The main reason is because the sectors generating the most waste do not have any incentive to recycle or compost. The breakdown is approximately 61 per cent institutional, commercial, industrial; 30 per cent construction and demolition; and nine per cent residential.

Incentive to business means a financial incentive. The business community needs to be consulted to see what can be done to persuade it to recycle or compost the tonnes of waste generated each year. Another factor in the equation is that if less material is taken to the landfill there would be less money taken in as tipping fees. This, of course, would be offset by having to handle that much less waste.

The recycling, composting and waste-management industries in Whitehorse need to be involved in the discussion regarding waste-to-energy. More information is needed from these industries to ascertain what levels of nonprofitable recycling is being done that is beneficial to the environment, and what the result would be if recycling were to cease in Whitehorse. The recycling at Raven Recycling that does not generate an income currently exceeds the amount that is profitable. In that regard, it is providing a valuable free service.

The environmental hierarchy in dealing with waste from the most effective to the least is: reduce, reuse, recycle, recovery and, lastly, landfill. Thermal disposal, the burning of waste, falls somewhere in the recovery level in environmental effectiveness. Every piece of recyclable material that is incinerated will have to be manufactured from raw material again, generating a larger carbon footprint.

It is commendable the issue of waste management is of importance to the administration and council and that they are actively seeking solutions. However, it is imperative no decisions be made prior to complete information being gathered. The minutes from the April 14 council and senior management meeting refers to the Solid Waste Action Plan and Landfill Management Plan 2012. But, that is still in the draft stage. There is a Landfill Management Plan from 2003 that deals with day-to-day operations, but doesn’t speak to the issue of recycling or waste diversion. The last Solid Waste Action Plan was in 1998 and is outdated. Presumably, the 2012 version will address required issues.

Questions yet to be considered include whether or not the current recycling industry has the capacity to receive the material that could come from the sectors that currently are not providing it. How will the cost of handling the nonprofitable recyclables be recovered?

Will the incineration of waste to create energy become an insatiable behemoth requiring an unlimited amount of fuel in order to maintain the bottom line for shareholders É and at what environmental cost? Or, will it prove to be a reasonable solution to the disposal of refuse in Whitehorse?

Time must be taken, and everyone affected must be consulted, to ensure all aspects of the waste-to-energy question are fully explored before we come to any conclusions.

I can be contacted at 333-0595, by email at norm@normhamilton.ca or my website at www.normhamilton.ca/candidate/.

Norm Hamilton

council candidate