City consultant slams 'inadequate' gas plant environmental review

A new report from a city-hired environmental consultant says the environmental screening done by the company proposing a controversial waste to energy plant on the waterfront is inadequate.
Project head Robert Clark (right) spoke with residents a public meeting last year about the proposed gasification plant on Sherman Avenue, north of Burlington Street. (Adam Carter/CBC)

A new report from a city-hired environmental consultant says there are major gaps in the environmental screening done by the company proposing a controversial waste to energy plant on the waterfront.

The WSP Canada Inc. report cites inadequate risk assessments for air quality, water quality, and human health risk, alongside a host of other issues.

This decision could impact the next 50 years of our community.- Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green

"There is potential for environmental impairment if the project proceeds and a number of outstanding issues need to be addressed before a decision can be made about environmental approval," a report heading to city council reads.

The consultant is recommending that city council push for a "bump up" with the Ministry of Environment to a full and more stringent study of the proposed trash-to-gas plant — though a local environmental expert says those bump ups are rarely granted.

Surprised at criticisms

Port Fuels Inc. — the company proposing the plant proposal — says it has followed provincial laws and qualifies for an easier review because of the energy producing part of the project.

The company's COO Robert Clark said hearing that WSP was being critical of the project came as "a bit of a surprise."

"We've been doing everything under the sun to answer their questions," Clark said. "If there's anything that needs to be addressed, we will certainly address it."

Among the other issues the city's consultant outlines are:

  • The company's Air Quality Assessment didn't include emission rate estimations that were accurate enough because they use data for the modelling study based on the UK pilot plant
  • The study doesn't evaluate potential malfunction or accident scenarios that might require air pollution controls, and doesn't address the potential for certain carcinogens
  • The stormwater management measures proposed for the site are inadequate
  • No documentation has been made available to back up the company's claims that the operation would be economically sustainable

Clark issued an open letter on the project Thursday evening, in which he again said the project meets provincial standards.

"The Environmental Screening Report and the Human Health Risk Assessment found the port facility complies with the Province of Ontario's emissions standards, and in fact falls well inside provincial emissions ceilings," he wrote.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green has been fighting the project for months, and says he's happy to see a report that backs up what the city has been saying all along. "They haven't presented any real science to back up any of their claims," Green said. "I'm very confident in the position we took."

Port Fuels is proposing a facility within the city's port lands that would have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste material per year and would generate both energy and a solid byproduct that could be used in commercial construction.

Proven or not proven?

The company says its "Gasplasma" technology is established and proven, but the city consultant argues that the company has never operated a plant at the scale proposed, and there isn't much data available on its environmental performance. The company operates one experimental plant at a much smaller size in Swindon, England.

"Performance data for the Swindon plant is only available for a specific, relatively high quality feedstock and only for short term trials," the city's consultant says in its review.

Clark says Port Fuels has provided "more than enough" data to give necessary environmental assurances, and that "what if scenarios" would need to be addressed further down the line.

"Since we don't have a plant physically built yet, some of these things can't be addressed yet," he said. "But they will be at the appropriate time."

Horwath urges full assessment

Ontario NDP Leader once again called for environment minister Glen Murray to order a full Environmental Assessment of the proposed plant on Thursday.

"I have heard nothing from Glen Murray since I first demanded a full EA for the gasification plant back in November," said Horwath. "He needs to do his job. This is untested technology that exists only as one small pilot project in England."

"We need to properly understand the environmental impact of this massive project. With his inaction, Murray is betting the future of Hamilton Harbour on the results of a science fair experiment."