Elmira biogas plant allowed to boost capacity

·3 min read

ELMIRA — Residents can soon expect more trucks carrying organic waste rumbling through Elmira’s main street.

The Ministry of Environment recently approved an increase in capacity to the Woolwich Bio-En Power Inc. enaerobic digestion facility, the Elmira biogas plant that turns organic waste into renewable natural gas through bacterial digestion.

The approval includes an increase in the amount of waste material for the plant’s digestion process from 70,000 to 110,000 tonnes per year.

The approval also allows for 160 truck movements, or 80 trucks per day. This is an increase from the currently allowed 40 trucks per day included in the original 2012 renewable energy approval.

The extra truck traffic is a contentious issue for citizens who feel there is already too much of it in Elmira. Comments on the Environmental Registry of Ontario’s posting expressed worry about the toll the trucks will take on roads, homes and air quality.

Shannon Purves-Smith lives near the plant. Its trucks go by her home regularly.

She feels biogas plants are a good idea but should be located closer to their sources of waste, and not in residential areas.

She said she’s been living with the extra truck traffic from the company since 2012.

“It gets worse all the time,” Purves-Smith said. “The front of my yard is covered in truck dust, and it gets in the house, and we have to have air filters. If you’re gardening outside, you’ll just faint at the smell.”

The province also approved more flexibility in types of wastes allowed to be used as material for the plant. Inbound trucks could be carrying an assortment of approved organic wastes through Elmira’s main street, including food waste, manure, glycerol, fats oils and grease, renewable energy crops like corn silage, and organic waste skimmed from wastewater treatment systems.

“We expect this change at our plant to lead to no more than perhaps a dozen additional vehicles passing through the area in a typical day. It will not be a significant change,” said Paul Taylor, manager of business development.

The Region of Waterloo’s 2015 traffic count estimated average annual daily traffic at 16,145 vehicles at the main intersection of Arthur and Church streets.

The ministry stated that Woolwich Bio-En will work to ensure odour and noise limits are met.

Bio-En produces 2.85 megawatts of electricity and 3.02 megawatts of heat, though the company is considering focusing on selling its product as gas, rather than electricity, according to Taylor.

Purves-Smith and her late husband have been involved with the community debate around Woolwich Bio-En for many years. She said her main concern is that the emissions created by the trucks bringing wastes from across the Greater Toronto Area and throughout Ontario could negate or severely reduce the climate benefit of the technology itself.

Taylor said the plant is one of the largest carbon sinks in Waterloo Region.

The facility has three pre-treatment tanks, two digester tanks and one repository tank where the biogas is generated and stored. The gas can then be used to produce heat and power.

The company also participated in a pilot project last year with the Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Area to divert organic wastes from downtown businesses.

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record