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Rocky Mountain House seeks more information on waste-to-energy project

Town council opts not to sign letter of intent to deliver garbage to proposed Innisfail facility
A Varme Energy waste-to-energy plant in Stavanger, Norway. Varme is proposing to build a similar plant near Innisfail. (Contributed photo)

Rocky Mountain House town council wants a more detailed cost breakdown before it offers a show of support to a proposed Innisfail waste-to-energy project.

Edmonton-based Varme Energy has approached a number of central Alberta municipalities seeking letters of intent to provide waste for a proposed $100 to $200 million waste-to-energy and carbon capture plant. The plant will be designed to process 100,000 tonnes of waste annually and convert it into emissions-free heat and power while capturing carbon at the end of the process.

Rocky Mountain House Mayor Debbie Baich said Varme first came to the town about a year ago to pitch its proposed project.

“I think it’s a really interesting, and moving forward, environmentally friendly process to deal with waste that is outside the stream of being recycled or being composted,” said Baich during the Nov. 7 council meeting.

Baich said Varme intends to charge municipalities the same tipping rate they pay now.

“It’s not that it’s any kind of cost savings. They don’t have all the numbers 100 per cent but think the cost will be probably the same although the the benefit is different.”

Town chief administrative officer Dean Krause said diverting the community’s garbage would cost more because of higher hauling costs.

“Innisfail is farther than the landfill so it will cost us more,” said Krause.

Coun. Dave Auld said it was “premature” to offer a letter of intent without all of the financial implications being known.

“Just from what they’ve given us, it’s definitely going to be a cost increase for residents so I’m not in favour of sending any letter of intent until we have all the numbers.”

Coun. Dale Shippelt said he agreed with Auld.”I think we’re premature.”

If the town was to go forward with a letter of intent he wants to ensure that there is an option to drop out of any commitment should circumstances change.

Shippelt noted that the Recycling Council of Alberta was making a presentation to council in January, adding “it may be prudent to wait and see what they have to tell us.”

More detailed information on the plant’s waste tonnage requirements and potential financial implications for the town, if hoped-for waste volumes were not met was also sought by Coun. Len Phillips.

“I just need more information before I feel comfortable making a decision like this.”

Coun. Tina Hutchinson said two years remain on the town’s existing waste contract and she wants to see the town look at options for reducing waste and revisit the waste-to-energy proposal as the existing contract gets closer to expiry.

Baich noted the letter of intent request was brought forward after Town of Sylvan Lake council approved a similar letter last month. She supported gathering more information if that is council’s wish.

“I personally think we should look at projects like this that turn (waste) into energy rather than into landfill,” she said.

“The more people that sign up for Innisfail’s project the sooner it can go forward and be reality.”

Sylvan Lake Mayor Megan Hanson said in announcing its letter of intent that the community was excited about the prospect of working with Varme, which would divert 7,000 tonnes of garbage from the landfill annually.

Varme CEO Sean Collins said the company hopes to nail down commitments for the necessary waste supply by early 2024.

Varme Energy is the Canadian subsidiary of Green Transition Holdings, a Norway-based company with extensive experience developing waste-to-energy facilities in Europe.

Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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