News Local

REM chief addresses council

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today


What the proponent is calling a "low-temperature gasification" waste-to-energy plant and what opponents label an incinerator which will spew toxins into the air was the subject of a presentation that drew a sizable crowd to Hamilton Township council Tuesday.

REM president Lewis Staats, the other half of the Entech-REM partnership developing the project, talked about how he got involved in the Wesleyville-area proposal which still must meet energy ministry approval before start-up in 2018, if all goes without a hitch.

Staats says he and Grand River Green Power near Brantford researched possible wind and solar projects starting in about 2005 but the projects proved uneconomical to undertake in that area of aboriginal land. After that, he got side-tracked into investing into professional hockey and lacrosse in New York, selling the hockey team to the Buffalo Sabres, councillors were told.

With a little time on his hands, he said, he responded to an inquiry from "some Port Hope individuals" who asked him to come to the community. Further research into the Green Energy Act led him to find out about the Entech technology of low-temperature gasification developed in Australia. He gained the rights to North America from Entech, and if the Wesleville plant proceeds, it would be the first in Canada or the U.S.

It would also be a larger facility than any other, processing 165,000 tonnes of waste and creating 15 megawatts of power – the equivalent amount of power used by 14,000 homes. Other plants using the technology include those in Poland, Australia, Taiwan and other parts of southeast Asia, REM's vice-president of engineering, Hisham Younis, told Northumberland Today.

In that same interview, Staats said that the investment in the proposed Wesleyville plant is estimated at more than $150 million. The business model envisions profit from the waste contracts with people bringing waste to the facility (and paying a tipping fee) and selling electricity back to the electrical grid.

Discussions have taken place with some provincial ministries and the Ontario Power Authority about a contract to connect – but until environment ministry approval, that process is somewhat on hold, Staats said.

"They have said they are interested," he added.

Staats hopes to have environment ministry approvals by the end of the year.

He did not, however, mention during his public presentation that both the Municipality of Port Hope and a citizens group are pushing the ministry for a full environmental assessment instead of the truncated one currently underway on the proposed low-temperature gasification plant.

Under questioning by several council members, Staats responded to repeated criticism previously leveled by retired specialist medical geneticist and research scientist, Dr. Stan Blecher of Port Hope, that cancer-causing toxins would be generated from the process and nano-particles would be released into the air.

Repeatedly, Blecher has told area municipal councils and county councillors in Northumberland that there is no technology able to do what Entech-REM proposes in terms of being a clean and green process.

Staats countered that, saying a detailed human health and ecological report for the environment ministry is in the process of being compiled by the company's consultant.

"It will be completed later this year and be available," Staats said.

Deputy Mayor Isobel Hie asked if the project would go ahead if the report shows toxins would be released but within ministry guidelines.

"We'll rest our decision with Ministry of Environment approval," Staats replied.

So even if toxins and nano-particles are emitted, you will go ahead if they are below the guidelines, she pressed.

"Correct," he responded.

"How will you sleep at night?" Hie asked.

Mayor Mark Lovshin interrupted to say that Hie was "out of line" and that even vehicles release toxins into the air.

Later, the mayor acknowledged that people in the council chambers, including himself, have concerns. He and Councillors Gary Woods and Donna Cole said they'd like to believe the plant could be a green, clean operation but their skepticism showed.

"It would be best if it was green incineration," Cole said, but the problem is people don't believe the provincial government is looking out for their best interests.

"Citizens have become watch dogs," turning to local government when they can't get help at the provincial level, she said.

Cole also noted that Entech-REM has radio advertisements airing at this time about the value of the project.

Asked in an interview why this advertising is taking place now, Staats said it was part of the public information campaign and that the last public forums took place in the summer of 2013 before the application went to the environment ministry in the fall.

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