A larger-than-expected audience turned out for last night's public meeting hosted by the Port Moody Environmental Protection Committee's Waste Conversion Task Force. They came out on a hot Tuesday night after the long weekend to hear about the Plasco garbage gasification process proposed for their city.
It was hard to judge what the 100 people in the room were thinking as they listened to Rod Bryden, Plasco President and CEO. Bryden has a very effective speaking style: quiet, sincere, understated. The audience remained polite and attentive even as the presentation went on for double the allotted time (60 minutes, rather than 30).
Then the members of the Council-appointed Task Force, which is made up of citizens and chaired by Councillor Mike Clay, began posing questions.
For instance, they asked Bryden to clarify Plasco's position on composting. Surprisingly, Bryden suggested that composting is a "sacred cow" and that the city might do better not to spend money separating organics from the garbage and just have them gasified instead.
The organic materials would be "returned" to their "preceding natural elements" just as the other wastes are. And all these simple "elements" would then "recombined" into one product: syngas.
One product that can serve one purpose: producing energy.
(What extreme simplification, it occurred to me. Willing to give up all that diversity and all those opportunities for a quick shot of energy. When will someone notice that energy is the elephant in the room: we've already demonstrated that we don't know how to use energy responsibly ~ now we're willing to burn anything we can get our hands on to make more....)
Bryden was then pressed by members of the audience on his claim that the Plasco facility will have "no stack." People pointed out that the energy generation component of the Plasco facility is combustion of the syngas in an internal combustion engine, a process that cannot occur without a stack to allow the release of carbon dioxide... along with other substances including dioxins, furans and nanoparticles that Bryden had to admit were theoretically possible in the emissions, company predictions notwithstanding.
In response to another question from the audience, it came out that in addition to the stacks there are "flares" for the synthetic fuel to be burned off without producing energy, in the event of a malfunction in the engine.
And malfunction of the equipment was a problem, Bryden admitted under insistant questioning from the audience. When the Ottawa test plant stopped using "surrogate material" and moved on to real garbage, the feeder system jammed up ("crankcase stuck in the shredder") and they had to ship the waiting waste back to the city landfill while they resolved the problem. This is why the test plant was able to process only half the waste the city delivered to it. Welcome to the real world of dirty fuel, Plasco.
Asked if Port Moody's plant could be scaled smaller than the proposed 400 tonnes per day (which is approximately 36 times more waste than is produced by the households in Port Moody), Bryden said they could scale it down some ~ but if they went below 200 tpd it would reduce the "efficiency" and perhaps make the plant uneconomic.
The economics were of interest to the audience who probed, among other things, the $3.6 million dollar "royalty" to Ottawa if Plasco drums up business in other communities.
The audience also posed a question to Councillor Clay: why the rush to complete this enquiry in the summer? Can there be a referendum in the fall election? To which Clay did not shut the door.
If there is a referendum, the process that Clay is leading will be a huge contribution to the process. Hats off to Port Moody, a town of 30,000, for conducting a public "due diligence" process that brings out an audience of this size. And hats off to the good citizens of Port Moody who are taking the trouble to dig for answers before the city signs up.