Atlantic Power Corporation heard many concerns about its proposal to use rail ties for fuel from the public during its open house Wednesday in Williams Lake.
The contract for the company’s biomass-fuelled electricity generation with BC Hydro is up in 2018 and as the company seeks to renew that contract it is also looking for alternative fuel sources because of the downturn in the forest industry.
“People are asking if the rail ties will make the air quality worse,” said Terry Shannon, environmental manager of Western operations. “Will there be an increase in air pollution? Yes in some cases, no in other cases.”
Presently the company is permitted through the Ministry of Environment to burn up to five per cent rail ties, but hasn’t burned any since 2010. In the amendment the company is asking for permission to burn 15 to 25 per cent rail ties on an average annual basis.
A display table in the Gibraltar room provided samples of shredded fibre, such as bark, hog fuel and shavings from local suppliers such as Tolko and West Fraser.
For comparison, plant manager Mark Blezard included one with shredded rail ties.
“If there weren’t any labels on the jars it would be hard to tell the difference,” Blezard said as he picked up the rail tie shavings.
Many residents raised concerns about the ash from the plant, its storage and asked if the rail ties will change the ash’s nature.
Presently the ash is stored on the River Valley side of Soda Creek Road and is covered.
For three years the company has worked with an agrologist to provide ash to farmers’ fields.
Others wondered about how much water the power plant uses and asked if it could used recycle water, such as the city’s storm water.
Local resident Kim Herdman said she is not happy about the proposal to burn rail ties.
“I think there are other technologies and I think they are focusing on something that won’t cost them money whereas this will cost us our health,” Herdman said. “We moved here from Prince George for better air quality.”
Blezard, however, said when the company test burned in 2010 using 100 per cent rail ties, the emissions fell below the set acceptable levels.
When he was asked about fire risk from storing the rail ties on site, Blezard said the plant has a fire perimeter and there has never been a fire.
“We would only be chipping for a day’s supply at a time,” he added.
The company said pollutants were either destroyed at the 2000 C temperatures in the boilers or removed using the plant’s environmental controls.
Several people said if the plant is going to burn rail ties then it has to be done right.
Wednesday’s open house was an opportunity for the public to ask questions and provide feedback.
The next step will be for the company to submit its permit amendment application.
Once that’s received then the company will have to conduct a 30-day public consultation period, which Shannon anticipated will be late summer or early fall.