Plasco’s progress hangs on Green Fund

Plasco Energy Group executive vice-president Chris Gay doesn’t hesitate when asked to respond to skeptics of his company’s waste-to-energy ambitions.

Plasco Energy Group executive vice-president Chris Gay doesn’t hesitate when asked to respond to skeptics of his company’s waste-to-energy ambitions.

He’s heard it all before: The technology doesn’t work. They can’t get financed. The company lives out of a tent.

“You can go on and on. You know, we have staff of over 100 employees here in Ottawa. We’ve got a plant working, which no one else has in the world.”

On top of that, the company has a smaller scale demonstration operation in Barcelona, Spain, and is marketing its technology all over the world, in China, Japan, Greece, United Kingdom and Poland.

“We’re real. There’s no argument there by anybody I don’t think.”

Gay is equally sure the 200-tonne-a-day gasification plant proposed for Red Deer County will happen.

When it will happen depends on how soon the federal government approves Plasco’s application for around $23 million from the Green Infrastructure Fund.

“We expected an answer quite a while ago but we still haven’t got a resolution yet from them. Basically we’re on hold until we understand what’s going on with that fund.”

Gay would like to see work get underway on the site next to the county’s Horn Hill Waste Transfer Site east of Penhold early next year.

“We certainly know how to do work in the frost. I’m hoping we would be able to get some sort of start in February or March of 2010.”

Red Deer County Mayor Earl Kinsella admits some unease that the project now appears tied to federal funding that has yet to be approved.

“How can I predict what the federal government will do? I’m always anxious when they are involved in anything. They are great procrastinators,” said Kinsella, who is chairman of the Central Waste Management Commission, whose nine member municipalities have agreed to deliver trash to the gasification plant.

“Are they or aren’t they (going to approve the funding). I wish they’d say. Then one can get on with life.”

Kinsella said the agreement signed with Plasco does include timelines when construction must begin, but a deadline is not pressing.

“They don’t have to start this year. But they’re going to have to start soon in order to meet the timelines.

“Put it this way, there are timelines but it is not a crunch.”

While an official opening day may be unclear, Kinsella has no doubt Plasco’s technology works.

He says Sustainable Development Technology Canada recently gave the demonstration plant its stamp of approval for meeting emissions targets and other standards.

“I’m not concerned about the plant,” Kinsella said. “From what I understand it works very well. It met their requirements and they are a government body.”

The arm’s-length foundation was created by the federal government to invest in innovative technologies and provided $9.5 million to Plasco over four years.

In an Oct. 22 news release, foundation president and CEO Vicky Sharpe says Plasco’s project “demonstrated that the plasma gasification process is a viable choice for the treatment of municipal solid waste.”

Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol is not concerned by the delays.

“This is new technology. So let’s take our time and make sure it’s done right.

“Also, let’s make sure it’s funded appropriately.”

A successful project would have repercussions for many Canadian communities and it makes sense for other levels of government to be involved.

“I think the province or the feds should be investing into this project.”

Last May, a senior Plasco official who flew out from Ottawa to reassure local municipalities that the project was still a go predicted site work would begin over the summer and the plant could be ready by late 2010. The meeting came only a couple of weeks after the company laid off about 50 from a peak workforce of 160.

Gay said the economic picture has improved in the last few months and the private financing that will be necessary to build the $90-million plant is not expected to be a problem.

“The investment appetite for this sort of thing is high. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying the investment money is there.”

Progress is also being made on creating a second gasification plant in Ottawa, where the company is running an 85-tonne-a-day demonstration plant at a local landfill.

Company chief executive and former Ottawa Senators hockey team owner Rod Bryden told the Ottawa Citizen in September he hoped to sign a contract to clear the way for a 400-tonne-a-day commercial plant within a few weeks.

Gay said that has not happened yet, largely because the City of Ottawa has been “consumed” by a huge project to build shops and condos and renovate the sports stadium at Lansdowne Park.

“We’re set to go forward with Ottawa as soon as they’re set to go. Again, we’re just in one of those funny wait-and-see modes as well.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com