Emissions, revenue down at Metro Vancouver garbage incinerator

Waste-to-energy plant completes pollution control upgrade, but its costs are up and electricity sales are down

Metro Vancouver’s garbage incinerator has cut its emissions by 53 per cent since completing a major pollution control upgrade over the past year.

The $7-million retrofit by plant operator Covanta means the plant’s nitrogen oxides emissions now make up 0.4 per cent of the total in the region, down from 0.8 per cent.

That’s just over one third of the emissions allowed under the current limit set by the provincial government, according to Metro.

The plant is still awaiting a new operating certificate from the environment ministry – Metro’s application for one was challenged by the Fraser Valley Regional District, which demanded tougher pollution controls and testing.

The waste-to-energy plant is also reporting a major drop in revenue in 2014.

It took in nearly $5.5 million from selling electricity, but that’s down from $7.4 million in 2013. Power generation was offline for part of the year because of repairs to a failed turbine blade, and a new electricity purchase deal is now in effect with BC Hydro that pays Metro lower prices than before.

The earnings picture for the Burnaby waste-to-energy plant, run by Covanta, has deteriorated since 2010, when it took in a combined total of $11 million from selling electricity to the grid and steam to an adjacent industrial plant that has since shut down.

With no buyer for the more lucrative steam, the WTE plant retooled to generate strictly electricity.

It also grappled with higher operating costs in 2014 to truck fly ash to Alberta because some loads had failed cadmium tests for B.C. landfill disposal.

Metro officials say the plant remains by far the most cost-effective method of disposing of garbage, compared to using the Vancouver Landfill or trucking it to the Cache Creek Landfill, which the region wants to stop using in favour of a new waste-to-energy plant.

Metro solid waste manager Paul Henderson said the disposal cost is about half the amount per tonne to haul waste inland and dump it at Cache Creek.

The existing incinerator burns about 285,000 tonnes of garbage a year and a new one – if approved – could take another 370,000 tonnes.

In 2014, the net cost of WTE disposal was $60.53 per tonne, with more than $80 per tonne in operating and debt costs reduced by nearly $20 a tonne in revenue. That net cost has nearly doubled from $33.30 per tonne in 2010 due to the rising costs and falling revenue.

The revenue doesn’t count tipping fees Metro collects from haulers that dump there.

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