December 7, 2011
OTTAWA — The city’s proposed deal with Plasco Energy Group to dispose of up to 300 tonnes a day of city garbage is getting the full backing of Mayor Jim Watson, who hopes it’ll buy time for the city to find something else to do with its trash before the landfill is full.
“The agreement, in my opinion, is a good deal for taxpayers and it’s also a good deal for the environment and I’m going to support it,” Watson said. “Digging a hole and putting garbage in it in the 21st century just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
The company is headed by technology entrepreneur Rod Bryden. Under the terms of the contract, which isn’t fully finalized but whose “framework” was released late Monday, the city would pay $9.1 million a year to Plasco, if it takes those 300 tonnes a day — 109,500 tonnes a year, or about a third of Ottawa’s household waste production — of garbage.
The 20-year contract with Plasco has options to extend it to 40 years. Because of the city’s early support for Plasco, which is trying to commercialize its “plasma gasification” technology for turning garbage into burnable gas and a small amount of glassy leftover slag, it stands to get payments if the company builds commercial plants elsewhere. Depending on how successful Plasco is, a 40-year deal would cost the city between $400,000 and $950,000 a year more than the status quo of dumping most household garbage in the Trail Road landfill, but that doesn’t account for the eventual cost of finding a new landfill once Trail Road is full.
The city puts that cost at $250 million; the City of Toronto recently paid $220 million to buy a private landfill for its own use. Ottawa’s city government estimates that under existing conditions, the Trail Road landfill would have to close in 2042, but a 300-tonne-a-day Plasco deal would extend that to 2070.
The contract only includes payments to Plasco for garbage the company successfully processes. Watson contrasted it to a deal the city made with composting company Orgaworld, which pays the company for handling 80,000 tonnes of green-bin stuff a year whether the city delivers that much or not; in the early years of the program, the city hasn’t produced anything like that much organic waste.
“There’s been greater due diligence,” Watson said. “Certainly my office has taken a more hands-on approach, because lesson learned from Orgaworld.”
On the other hand, the green-bin program required residents to take up a new disposal system and learn new habits and was intended to expand over time, though it needed Orgaworld to build a full plant right at the beginning. The Plasco agreement, in contrast, will require nothing of residents except a small share of their taxes: the same trucks will pick up the same garbage in the same way and just take it a kilometre farther down Moodie Drive, to a Plasco plant rather than the landfill. And there’s no shortage of garbage on the city’s curbs and in its back-alley bins.
The report describing the agreement notes that if the process does work, it’ll be a feather in Ottawa’s cap. “[T]he City has an important leadership role in fostering innovation helping to brand Ottawa as an internationally renowned hot-bed for developing world-leading advanced technologies, particularly within the Clean-tech sector,” the report says. And also, “Any growth in Plasco’s business is good news for its local Ottawa operations, as it would translate to continued and increased research and development funding conducted in Ottawa.”
City council’s environment committee is to debate the proposed contract on Dec. 12 and then city council is to take a vote on Dec. 14. If it’s approved, city manager Kent Kirkpatrick is to finalize some “non-monetary” details with Bryden, and then Plasco would be responsible for getting its plant up and running between 2014 and 2016.
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