By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Any plans that California-based Liberty Energy had to establish an alternative energy facility in Hamilton are now on some forgotten shelf collecting dust.
After spending eight years and about $12 million to get city and provincial approval to use biomass materials to produce an alternative energy source for the city, Chief Executive Officer Wilson Nolan is in California now assisting Liberty Energy in operating a renewable bio-energy production facility in Lost Hills, 42 miles west-northwest of Bakersfield. Liberty Energy is owned by McCarthy Farms of Bakersfield.
“I spent a lot of time inHamilton,” said Nolan, during a recent telephone interview from California. “I sure did put in a lot of time there. It’s still a good place. I like the community, and there are a lot of wonderful people there.”
Liberty Energy recalled Nolan from his Hamilton posting soon after council decided in February to eliminate the company’s proposed Strathearne Avenue North gasification site from the city’s public private partnership funding request to the federal government.
That decision ended Liberty Energy’s idea to build what was called a biosolids incineration plant in the industrial heartland of the city after enduring nearly eight years of jumping through environmental and bureaucratic hoops.
“I thought Hamilton would be an excellent place (for an energy-from-waste plant),” he said.
In 2009 Nolan presented to council an unsolicited proposal for a $110-million plant on Strathearne Avenue North. Since 2004, Nolan had become as ubiquitous a personality within the Hamilton community as one of its politicians, as he attempted to sell the community, and city hall, on the prospect of converting sewage sludge and other biomass products, such as grass clippings, and wood shavings into electricity through a low emission gasification process. The company hired former Progressive Conservative MPP Trevor Pettit to represent the company, conduct a community outreach program, and help it through the various governments’ bureaucratic briar patches.
The proposal would eventually, according to Liberty Energy, create about 10 mega-watts of energy to power 8,000 homes. The residue 70,000-tonnes of ash would also be used in other material such as mixing with cement. Liberty Energy officials stated.
But the great benefit, Liberty Energy officials argued, would be the elimination of the many trucks that transport the city’s sludge across the area to dump the material onto farm land.
Still, the facility would need about 400,000 tonnes of sludge annually for the incinerator to work. The city only produces about 40,000 tonnes.
City staff and politicians, such as councillors Chad Collins and Sam Merulla, were against the facility from the beginning. After years of living near the Solid Waste Reduction Unit (SWARU) they had no stomach for another incineration plant near their residents. They also didn’t want to see trucks from other municipalities travelling along Burlington Street dumping sludge into the incinerator.
Councillors eventually did agree to approve a re-zoning amendment in 2005 for the Strathearne Avenue North property to allow the development, believing if they denied it, the Ontario Municipal Board would allow the rezoning. But whether any energy-from-waste facility could be allowed to produce any energy remained to be seen.
In 2008 Liberty Energy had prepared an environmental screening report to operate the facility, but councillors andHamiltonenvironmentalists argued that only a full environmental assessment would do. The province approved the full EA.
In the meantime, the city contemplated building its own gasification facility. Council eventually had to decide whether the city’s plan orLiberty’s proposal was the most cost effective. City staff brought in an outside consultant to peer review the two plans, and it determined there were risks with the Libertyplan, while the city proposal would be cheaper.
Nolan objected to the results of the peer review, and demanded another look at both plans. This time former city manager Joe Rinaldo was hired, along with the accounting firm Deloitte to examine not only the city’s and Liberty’s plans, but also a public-private partnership between the city and Liberty.
It found the city-owned facility was the most expensive at $302 million, followed byLiberty’s $200.1 million, and the private-public partnership facility would be the cheapest at $151.3 million.
In May, 2011, city staff recommended the city move ahead with a deal with Liberty Energy, instead of building its own incinerator. But councillors instead wanted to take a look at the federal government’s P3 grants, and if they applied to potential energy-from-waste facilities the city was looking at.
Councillors eventually approved an idea proposed by city staff to build its own incineration plant using sewage sludge and help fund it through a federal government P3 grants. The facility would be constructed near the Woodward Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant.
Nolan says the city made the wrong decision.
“It sure was disappointing. There was an opportunity to move forward,” said Nolan. “The city decided (to build a plant at Woodward.) It’s still significant they will have to truck in sewage sludge.
“You still need to calculate the lifecycle costs. The one thing they will still have to do is manage the biosolids.”
Nolan still believed there may have been an opportunity to partner with the city, but when councillors eliminated the Strathearne location there wasn’t much reason to remain inHamilton.
“(Our plan) has been put on the self,” said Nolan. “We still maintain a low level presence in southern Ontario. I do pass through now and then. Hopefully, at some point in time there may be an opportunity for Liberty Energy.”