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Waste to energy

One man's trash used to be another's treasure. Now it could be electricity. Yukon Energy Corporation is exploring burning municipal waste to produce power.

One man’s trash used to be another’s treasure. Now it could be electricity.

Yukon Energy Corporation is exploring burning municipal waste to produce power.

The Crown-owned utility held a meeting last week, where it presented the idea.

There were three scenarios considered.

All involved burning garbage, while some involved supplementing that with biomass - beetle-killed and waste wood.

It is also exploring the idea of funneling the plant’s excess heat to nearby buildings.

“I think it has a lot of support, the idea,” said David Morrison, president and CEO of Yukon Energy. “But we’re a long way from making any decisions.”

It’s all part of a process, which started with an energy charette in March.

The process doesn’t have an end date yet. Right now, they’re just exploring all the possibilities of alternative energy.

“It’s not holding a gun to anyone’s head,” said Don McCallum, an environmental engineer with Morrison Hershfield, the engineering firm consulting on the project. “We’re taking this one step at a time and Yukon Energy is committed to bring it back to stakeholders at each step to inform them and get their opinions.”

That’s a far cry from how they used to do things, said Morrison, who spent a lot of time running around the Old Fire Hall with a microphone on Tuesday facilitating a lively discussion.

“It’s pretty new for us,” he said.

Previously, Yukon Energy did all its studies and discussions in private. Once the plan was finalized, it would bring it to the public for consultation, he said.

Now the whole process is flipped on its head.

“Before we did any studies, we took the idea out and went out to the public,” said Morrison. “We’re still learning, but I think we get better decisions out of it.”

The idea of using Whitehorse’s municipal waste to produce energy is still in its infancy, but it seems promising, said Morrison.

“It’s fitting in with a range of costs that are comparable with other options,” he said.

To implement it will take much more detailed studies and engineering, but it could come online fairly quickly, within a few years, said McCallum.

A big challenge is overcoming the stigma attached to incinerators, which have been used for years in other countries to produce electricity, he said.

Some jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts, have banned incinerators due to concerns about toxic emissions.

But with state-of-the-art technology, emissions aren’t a problem, said McCallum.

“The emissions technology looks completely different today than it did when incinerators were really starting to be introduced in the ‘70s,” he said.

But Joy Snyder, the executive director of Raven Recycling, still has some concerns.

She’s worried a waste-to-energy plant will undermine the city’s still “immature” recycling efforts.

Right now, Whitehorse only diverts 19 per cent of its waste.

It wouldn’t take much effort to get that to 76 per cent, said Snyder.

The city and Yukon governments should be working on a detailed solid-waste plan to divert more recyclables from landfills instead of simply burning them, she said.

Even with costs and energy associated with shipping recycling south, it is still a more environmentally friendly solution, said Snyder.

“From an environmental perspective, and an economic one, recycling makes much more sense than simply burning it,” she said.

Yukon Energy’s plan did consider the city’s waste-diversion plan.

Even with the city recycling 62 per cent of its garbage, waste to energy is still a viable option, according to the utility’s study.

But it’s only one of many options needed to meet the territory’s energy needs.

“It’s not going to be just one solution, but a whole basket,” said Morrison.

The public consultation is ongoing.

On December 1, there is another meeting planned to discuss power through biogas - methane from sewage and rotting food waste.

While Yukon Energy is a long way from making decisions, Morrison is happy with the public discussion.

“I think it’s going well” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at