Saturday, July 13, 2024

Back of the envelope

The initial business plan for the energy-from-waste project proposed for the Pontiac compares two means of disposal: incineration versus landfill, and it uses the volume of 400,000 tons of garbage in its calculations.
A problem that immediately pops up with this analysis is that it is based on the figure of 400,000 tons. It was never clear why 400,000 tons of garbage was chosen as the target for the proposed incinerator, other than it being the volume required to keep the envisioned facility running non-stop. Now we are hearing through the series of presentations underway across the Pontiac that it was chosen because it was what was believed to be the volume of garbage produced by Ottawa, which we are told is now estimated to be much less due to reductions resulting from recycling and composting. So, the 400,000-ton basis of the $120,000 analysis provided in the initial business plan is not valid and ideas are already being considered for a smaller incinerator.
The second problem that arises with the initial business case is that it compares burning 400,000 tons with landfilling 400,000. This is another false premise for the analysis. The Pontiac does not produce 400,000 tons of garbage. Some have suggested that we should import 395,000 tons to add to our 5,000 tons to feed the proposed incinerator. But nobody is proposing that we import 395,000 tons for the purpose of landfilling. How to dispose of 400,000 tons of garbage is a problem that we don’t yet have, so it is perplexing that our high-priced help has chosen to make this comparison.
Perhaps a more useful comparison would be to look at burning 400,000 tons of mostly imported garbage with disposing of our own home-made 5,000 tons. A back-of-the-envelope analysis might look something like this:
Option A: Spend $750,000,000 mostly from government grants and/or loans, plus some private investment, to build an incinerator by the shores of the Ottawa River. Transport almost 400,000 tons of garbage into the Pontiac in 30 to 40 massive trucks per day on largely two-lane highways that in some sections are already in pretty rough shape. Burn it up, pumping various toxic emissions into the atmosphere, while leaving 100,000 tons of bottom ash requiring disposal.
Option B: Through recycling and composting, reduce our 5,000 tons by at least two-thirds, leaving less than two tons of regular household garbage for disposal, worst case scenario in a landfill. According to a video shown in the MRC presentations, some places are able to reduce their volume of garbage by as much as 90 per cent through smart, do-able strategies involving consuming less and reusing more.
One of the claims associated with Option A is that by employing incineration, it avoids the methane produced by landfilling garbage, which is important because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by the bio-degradation of organic material in an oxygen-deprived environment. Another way to prevent methane production is to keep organic material out of the waste stream by composting it, a component of Option B. Option B also avoids the production of considerable quantities of carbon dioxide that would result from dozens of trucks carrying garbage up the Valley and returning empty to the city every day.
The warden has said that another, more extensive business case is now required. At the same time, she has acknowledged that the mayors are not prepared to spend another nickel on one. This is good for the obvious reason that this idea is proving to be undeserving of any further expenditure of our locally-raised taxes. But beyond that, it could raise questions the mayors might want to consider before signing off on any further investment in this project.
One question is where would the money come from, if not the MRC budget, and what strings might be attached to it? Another is when does issuing successive sole-source contracts to the same company for an amount just under the threshold for competitive bidding risk being perceived as contract splitting? And would the MRC be any more transparent than it has been in its development of the focus of any further study, in the hopes that a question relevant to our actual needs would be selected as the basis of the analysis?

Charles Dickson


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