No slowdown expected to result from layoffs

The opening of a $90-million local garbage gasification plant won’t be delayed by the temporary layoffs of 57 Plasco engineers, says a company official.

The opening of a $90-million local garbage gasification plant won’t be delayed by the temporary layoffs of 57 Plasco engineers, says a company official.

The Red Deer-area plant is still expected to become operational in the summer of 2010, said Plasco executive vice-president Chris Gay of Ottawa. “I cannot see this impacting the project start date.”

Plasco is laying off 57 engineering employees for 13 weeks because of delays in raising project financing for the Central Alberta plant. This will reduce the company’s staff of 165 to 108.

Gay said capital markets are still recuperating from the global credit crunch, so banks and investors are understandably cautious about outlays of money.

While he hopes the recent strengthening of the stock market and oil prices will soon lead to an economic recovery, Gay maintains the plant in Red Deer County won’t be delayed, in any event, because Plasco has other plans for financing the project.

This includes forming partnerships with Alberta power companies — a couple have expressed interest because “for each tonne of waste, we can provide two tonnes of carbon credits,” he added.

The company can also apply for federal government infrastructure stimulus funding.

Gay said the laid off engineers had been refining Plasco’s “green” garbage disposal technologies to make them even more environmentally friendly.

But at this point, he believes it’s more important to focus on commercializing the technologies for turning garbage into electricity through a process called plasma gasification. This is being done by some of the remaining workers.

The engineers’ services will again be needed once the financial sector recovers, said Gay. “We are believing that when investment starts to flow again, we will recall these people.”

Red Deer County Councillor Reimar Poth, who’s on the Central Waste Management Committee, remains confident in the project, saying “the plant’s going to go ahead eventually,” even if there are small delays.

Most corporations have been adversely affected by the economy, so why not Plasco, asked Poth, who is buoyed by signs the economy has been improving since March, and does not believe the layoffs will be indefinite.

Thirteen weeks “is not an extended period of time,” added the councillor, who expects to learn more at the next Central Waste Management Committee meeting at the end of May.

Former Red Deer MP Bob Mills, who helped bring the project to Central Alberta and is now a consultant for Plasco, also reaffirmed his belief that the gasification plant will be built. If there’s a delay, he said, “I can see it being months, not years.”

Like other companies, Plasco has to be “creative” in lining up financing in these fiscally tight times, said Mills. “These guys have taken it this far . . . I’m still optimistic and excited.”

The 200-tonne-a-day plant is expected to be built next to Red Deer County’s Horn Hill Waste Transfer Site, just east of Penhold.

The nine communities of the Central Waste Management Commission, including the county, City of Red Deer and five area towns and two villages, have signed 20-year commitments to supply garbage to the gasification plant.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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