Atlantic Power Corporation’s permit amendment for burning rail tie material at its biomass energy plant in Williams Lake should be granted by the Ministry of Environment, the Panel of the Environmental Appeal Board has ruled.
After considering written appeals launched by six local residents, the EAB issued its written decision Thursday, April 11, but made some amendments of its own.
In a 65-page decision the board stipulated the combined rail material and clean construction and demolition debris component not exceed 35 per cent on a weight basis of the total biomass fuel supply calculated on a yearly basis — that’s down from the 50 per cent originally approved.
Atlantic Power can, however, burn up to 50 per cent daily in one day but not exceed the 35 per cent threshold over the course of the year, according to the amendment.
The report was made public in the afternoon and representatives from either side were not ready to respond immediately.
Taking into consideration information presented by the appeals, the panel said it found it reasonable that Atlantic Power should develop an ambient monitoring program acceptable to the Ministry of Environment, to confirm that the ambient levels of SO2, PAH and HCI in the air shed meet applicable air quality standards.
The panel also agreed that AP participate in an ambient monitoring program with other stakeholders in the airshed to investigate the spatial variability of PM2.5 and NO2.
The MOE will also have to require Atlantic to make its annual report for the air permit available for public viewing on the internet within 30 days of submitting it to the MOE.
The plant has operated in Williams Lake since 1993 and been owned by Atlantic Power since 2011.
Originally the company had a permit that allowed it to use a treated wood component, such a rail ties, but that component could not exceed five per cent of the total biomass.
Once it owned the facility, Atlantic Power never burned rail tie material, however.
In 2014, Atlantic Power began the process of renewing its electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro and argued because the Allowable Annual Cut was going to be reduced in the region, rail ties was an alternative fuel source.
In July 2015, Atlantic Power applied to amend its air permit to allow for increased rail tie burning up to 50 per cent on an annual basis.
The permit was approved in 2016, however by September 2016, concerned residents formed an ad hoc community group — Rail Ties Be Wise – and formal appeals were submitted against the permit being granted by the MOE.
“We don’t want to become the rail tie burning capital of Canada,” noted the Rail Ties Be Wise website. “We want people to want to visit and move to Williams Lake and for our community to be healthy and grow.”
Rail Ties Be Wise also noted it was working to ensure that rail ties fuel did not qualify as “clean or renewable” fuel under the Clean Energy Act.
A petition from the group garnered 1,540 signatures from area residents, and an extensive letter-writing campaign to government officials.
City council did favour rail tie burning at one point, but in November 2018 Mayor Walt Cobb told the BC Utilities Commission he believed slash piles were a viable option over rail ties.
BC Hydro confirmed in the new year it would be negotiating a new EPA with Atlantic Power, but as of yet, it has not been finalized.
The Tribune has put in requests to Rail Ties Be Wise, Atlantic Power and the Ministry of Environment for interviews.