Major expansion to P.E.I. energy plant behind schedule and millions over budget

·4 min read
P.E.I. Energy Systems heats 125 buildings in Charlottetown, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, with thermal energy.   (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
P.E.I. Energy Systems heats 125 buildings in Charlottetown, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, with thermal energy. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Plans for a major upgrade and expansion at the nearly 40-year-old district heating plant in Charlottetown are three years behind schedule and will cost tens of millions of dollars more than expected.

P.E.I. Energy Systems, owned by Toronto-based Enwave, announced the expansion plans in 2019. The plan, at the time, was for the project to be completed this year at a cost of $37 million.

But Dave Godkin, manager of P.E.I. Energy Systems, says the project is still in the development stages. He said the project won't be completed until 2025 at the earliest, and the cost has ballooned to as much as $80 million.

"We did have our challenges and distractions through COVID," Godkin said in an interview outside the plant.

"We did spend that time doing some additional engineering, looking a little more detailed at the project and I think we're in a better spot now in terms of technology and what we want to do and we're set up, I guess, to really continue our discussions with the province about what the project really looks like and how we get it off the ground."

'Enwave is looking after the capital costs'

Godkin said the cost increases are because of changes in technology, and the ever-increasing costs of construction. But he said the company is not looking for additional funding from either the federal or provincial governments — at least not at this point.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

The federal government is contributing $3.5 million to the expansion, and Godkin said that money is still on the table.

"So right now … Enwave is looking after the capital costs, and we will be, obviously, entering into long-term agreements for waste and things like that with the province," he said.

P.E.I. Energy Systems heats 125 buildings in Charlottetown, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and UPEI, with thermal energy.

The facility has been incinerating black bin waste from Kings and Queens counties to produce energy and with the expansion, the company wants to start incinerating waste from Prince County. It also uses wood chips and oil to ensure a steady flow of heat from the main plant, near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and a backup plant on the campus of UPEI.

'Our environmental goals'

Environment Minister Steven Myers said it's important to divert as much waste as possible from landfills.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Still, Myers said he wants the project studied to make sure it will benefit the Island and the environment.

"There'd be an environmental assessment on a project of that size, particularly because it's dealing with waste and burning of waste," said Myers.

"So it would be a large project that we would want to ensure met all of our environmental goals."

As for having more diesel trucks moving waste from western P.E.I., Myers said he's already been looking at electric garbage trucks, something he hopes will be introduced on the Island before this project gets completed.

'We're committed to getting that done'

Transportation Minister James Aylward toured the Charlottetown plant last week and is working with the Island Waste Management Corporation and Enwave in an effort to get the expansion off the ground.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"We're committed to getting that done, but it's going to take some time," Aylward.

Heather Myers, disposal manager with the Island Waste Management Corporation, said the expansion will divert more waste from the landfill, which will extend the life of the East Prince landfill site.

That site still has a 30-year lifespan, and with more land nearby the Wellington site could have another 80 years.

"Whenever you can divert waste from the landfill, that is the goal … so if this is an opportunity to divert more waste from the landfill, then that just extends the useful life of our current landfill cell," said Myers.

There are about 27,000 metric tons of waste currently going to the Charlottetown plant. About 25,000 to 27,000 tons of waste is currently going into the landfill, so the goal is to divert as much of that as possible to be incinerated.

'The driver behind it'

Godkin said the project will provide a significant environmental benefit by reducing the amount of waste going into the landfill, displacing oil on the district heating system and cutting the amount of oil and wood chips used at the district heating plant.

About 20 per cent of the overall plant operates on oil, which is used for peak use and backup. The goal is to reduce that to five per cent or less.

"That really is the driver behind it, to divert the balance of the burnable material to the energy from waste plant for district heating, displace the oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Godkin.

"Over the life of the project, and this is from an Island perspective, we're looking at greenhouse gas reductions somewhere in the order of 160,000 tons of CO2. That's basically between 2025 and 2050."

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