Railway ties eyed for fuelling Atlantic Power Corporation

Atlantic Power Corporation is hoping to get permission to burn more railway ties at its biomass-fuelled electricity generation station.

Atlantic Power Corporation is hoping to get permission to burn more railway ties at its biomass-fuelled electricity generation station in Williams Lake.

Presently the company has a permit to burn five per cent in its mix of fibre at the Williams Lake Power Plant on Mackenzie Avenue North.

The company is asking to increase that amount by 10 to 20 per cent on an annual basis, citing a decline in fibre supply due to an annual allowable cut reduction and ongoing impacts of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation as reasons to use rail ties.

“We will be holding an open house about the project on Wednesday, June 17 at the Cariboo Memorial Complex from 5 to 8 p.m.,” said Terry Shannon, Environmental Manager of Western Operations for Atlantic Power from his office in San Diego, California. “We will have company representatives and plant staff there with some poster boards explaining the main features of the plant as well as the proposed amendment to our permit.”

Despite having a permit to burn rail ties, the company has not burned any since 2010 because of public complaints.

At that time, the ties were being chipped and stored downtown behind the Station House Gallery at the foot of Oliver Street.

“People were concerned about the noise and odour of the chipping operation, and perceived fire risk with the storage,” Shannon said of the previous operation. “Most of the reaction was about the chipping operation not the actual discharge from the plant.”

To address that concern, the company is proposing to install a shredder for the ties at the power plant site.

Presently the plant employs 32 full-time employees. If permission is granted to process more rail ties it is expected three to four more people will be hired to run the shredder.

The cost of installing a shredder is between five and $10 million and it would take about two years before it was ready to use.

In its existing permit, the plant’s emissions are measured for total particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and opacity.

“We never exceeded any of those levels when we did burn rail ties,” Shannon said.

Additionally the company proposes the burning of rail ties will contribute additional environmental benefits by reducing the number of rail ties that accumulate along the rail tracks in Western Canada or find their way into landfills.

Atlantic Power is currently talking to a number of rail companies to determine how best to acquire rail ties, however, whether the company buys them or they are provided for free has not been determined.

During the last month, the company met with the Williams Lake Indian Band, Soda Creek Band, Mayor Walt Cobb, CRD Chair Al Richmond and MLA Donna Barnett to talk about the proposal and will be making a presentation to the CRD board on June 12, Shannon said.