Has Plasco run out of time?

Years later, with zero results, it’s time for area municipalities to look beyond the Plasco Energy Group to handle Central Alberta’s garbage.

Years later, with zero results, it’s time for area municipalities to look beyond the Plasco Energy Group to handle Central Alberta’s garbage.

As the months and years have passed, many observers have come to doubt that the Ottawa-based company will ever build an environmentally friendly plasma gasification plant in Red Deer County.

Plasco was a great idea, it seemed, five years ago.

It still is, it’s just that as time goes by, and delays and obstacles continue to arise — the latest being there may not be enough garbage in Central Alberta to fuel the plant — the Central Waste Management Commission should begin to look at other modern waste-handling possibilities.

It was early in 2007 that then-Red Deer MP Bob Mills began bouncing around the Plasco Energy Group ball.

It was to be an environmentally sound way to deal with household waste. A special (plasma) heat process would turn 95 per cent of waste into gas. The remaining byproduct would be used in construction materials.

Plasco would build a now $70-million (originally it was between $85 million and $100 million) plant here that would extract methane from garbage. The methane would supply energy to the plant, and the extra energy would be sold to the provincial power grid.

The plant was supposed to start accepting waste in 2009.

One could probably write a book on all the zigs and zags surrounding the Plasco project.

The local Central Waste Management Commission was formed to work with Plasco to see the project develop. The commission grew to 15 members, including the City of Red Deer. But as time went by, with delay after delay, some dropped out. Today, nine members remain — the city, Red Deer County, Innisfail, Penhold, Blackfalds, Bowden, Sylvan Lake, Elnora and Delburne.

Plasco was Mills’ baby.

“This is not a federal initiative, it’s a Bob Mills initiative. I want it in my community so I can brag about it,” Mills told the Advocate in early 2007, amidst a robust economic boom. Among the many things that a boom brings is a motherload of garbage.

In an exciting official announcement on Oct. 18, 2007, Chris Gay, Plasco executive vice-president, said: “Here in Central Alberta will be our first commercial plant.”

At the same time, Mills said, “I know in the future we’ll look on this day as one of the most important in Red Deer’s history.”

Plasco was to bear the cost of the plant. An earlier agreement with the commission fell by the wayside when deadlines, and federal government grant monies, did not materialize.

Some would argue that the federal Conservative government doesn’t need to pour a plug nickle into Central Alberta because politically the area is all sewn up.

Municipalities would pay tipping fees to Plasco, which today would be $66 per tonne should a new agreement with Plasco be reached later this month — at least that’s the newest deadline.

Municipalities would also commit to provide certain amounts of garbage to the Plasco plant.

In recent days, the newest obstacle to there ever being a Plasco project in Central Alberta came to full light. We may not have enough garbage to keep the proposed 200-tonne-per-day plant running. And there appears to be growing concerns about the fact that local municipalities would need to guarantee certain levels of waste for 20 years.

Given a growing penchant to reduce waste, locking in for 20 years seems problematic. Between 2007 and 2010, the city’s waste dropped from 125,000 tonnes a year to 85,000 tonnes, mostly because of reduced construction.

Edmonton is moving ahead with its own gasification plant. It makes sense, as the larger centres alone probably create more waste than all of Central Alberta. Plasco might be hard-pressed over time to have enough Central Alberta garbage coming its way.

On Friday, the local commission approved a motion to wait until late this month to hear back from Plasco before making a final decision on a new contract.

Given the history, it would be some kind of miracle if the Plasco project finally, for once and for all, began to truly take shape.

At the end of January, when yet another delay arises, it will be time for the commission to move on and explore other modern waste management technologies.

It’s been a good and progressive effort, but results are what speak.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@red deeradvocate.com, by phone at 403-314-4332 and on Twitter @maryannbarr1.