Sunday, December 29, 2013

What Is Really Behind WTE Opposition?

Let me make this perfectly clear, I am NOT an apologist for an energy from waste plant at Duke Point, or anywhere else in the province for that matter.

Neither am I opposed to an energy from waste plant at Duke Point, or anywhere else in the province. The truth of the matter is that I simply have not become informed enough to make an intelligent decision.

I don't think that our elected officials at the RDN or the city of Nanaimo have sufficient information to make an informed decision on the matter either. That however, does not seem to have stopped them from making what can fairly be categorized as a rash, knee jerk reaction to the whole question.

What's really behind all the vocal opposition, and political gamesmanship?

Language can create public opinion as all good spin doctors know. For example who in their right mind would be in favour of a trash burner in their city, and who would want Nanaimo to be known as the garbage capital of B.C.? Certainly no one I know.

On the other hand who would be opposed to state of the art technology that arguably is much greener than landfill, that takes waste and converts it to a form of fuel to produce steam and electricity instead of having to burn fossil fuel to produce the same energy?

Who would want a garbage burner in their city? Who would want an energy conversion unit that takes waste and turns it into a valuable form of energy while reducing GHG?

Understandably, most people will have a negative reaction to the first proposition and simply want to hear no more of it. This is exactly what happened in Nanaimo at the Regional District level when this whole issue was first raised.

Predictably, the Sierra Club and other environmentalists were quick to mount a campaign to nip the whole idea in the bud. I presume they had little trouble getting some local politico's to climb on board their bandwagon and help champion the cause.

Jumping to judgement without knowing the facts
A questionable leadership quality....

Members of the RDN unanimously agreed to let Metro Vanvouver and the province know they did not want to even entertain having an energy from waste facility considered for Duke Point.

Immediately images of garbage-laden scows with flocks of seagulls soaring above, fighting the perilous waters between here and Vancouver were brought out before the media. Nanaimo's image as a pristine, west coast jewel would be destroyed when we became known as Vancouver's garbage dump as we accepted all their garbage to burn in our industrial park as plumes of yellow/greenish toxic life-sucking pollutants blocked out the sun.

The only problem with any of these images or conclusions is they have been based on assumptions of what such a facility might actually look like or how it would function. The decision has been made without any environmental or economic impact studies of what might really be proposed for Duke Point. Jumping to conclusions without knowing the facts, being driven by fear is a poor way to plan for the future.

Modern 'energy from waste' plants seem to have come a long way....

It turns out that these plants have been in service in Europe for quite sometime and don't seem to be causing the problems raised by local opponents. The image to the right above, is a plant in Vienna Austria, apparently there is a facility within a block or two of the Louvre in Paris and Sweden is actually importing waste from other countries. Sweden converts the waste to steam which provides both heat and electricity. Their logic being, other countries are paying them to take the fuel which replaces the coal or gas they would have to otherwise buy. That seems pretty shrewd to me, and I don't somehow see the Swedes putting up with toxin belching garbage burners.

Closer to home an energy from waste facility has been operating in Burnaby since 1988, and to my knowledge hasn't created any of the disasters opponents in Nanaimo seem to fear.

We really need to know what we are saying NO to first ..........

There are some hardcore environmentalists who will not accept any technology that they perceive as having any environmental impact whatever. They don't want to see any fossil fuels used, and the idea of converting waste to energy is seen as somehow derailing their goal of zero waste. They seem of the opinion that if Nanaimo accepted an energy from waste facility at Duke Point we would be aiding and abetting Vancouver in their plans to not recycle.

Of course there are the crafty politicians who are always on the lookout for a parade to get in front of if they see a political 'plus' to taking up a certain cause.

The bottom line is, we do not know enough about this proposal to simply reject it out of hand as an energy from waste plant may be in our future as the Cedar dump becomes full and we need an alternative. The idea that perhaps Vancouver could foot the bill for a $500,000,000 energy from waste plant which we could use to dispose of our waste when our dump is full, seems like a long range possibility worth considering.

It is encouraging to see the majority of city council are open to considering the options before closing the door. Councillors Brennan, Greves and Anderson however, attempted to shut that door before any of the facts are known. Making decisions in the absence of facts is a governance characteristic I would hope is not encouraged.

What is driving the fierce opposition?

I can offer a few speculations of what I think is driving the opposition. Likely the strongest is a deeply held conviction that our consumption-driven society is killing the planet and all measures must be taken to change our ways before it is too late.

The other as suggested earlier are political folk who are always looking for a block of votes to help them keep their jobs.

Many people are opposed to the idea based on their preconceived notion of what a garbage burner must look like, and the idea of hauling Vancouver's trash over here and burning it, is simply repulsive on many levels.

Hopefully calmer heads will prevail and we will not come to any conclusions before an unbiased environmental and economic impact assessment can be concluded.

One thing this issue has raised is the unavoidable fact that Nanaimo is going to have to look for an alternative to how we deal with our own waste in the very near future as the Cedar dump site does not have that many years left.


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