Lehigh Hanson Materials cement plant is located in Delta off River Road.

Metro incinerator foe likes cement plant option

FVRD says Lehigh plan to burn garbage just swaps 'dirty fuels'

Lehigh presentation to Metro Vancouver in November.

One of the staunchest opponents of garbage incineration on the Metro Vancouver board says there’s one idea for a new waste-to-energy plant in the region that he can likely support.

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves says the proposal by Lehigh Hanson Materials to use its Delta cement kiln as a waste incinerator looks like by far the best choice so far.

Lehigh proposes incinerating dried and processed garbage as fuel, replacing its normal use of coal.

“There would be no net effect on the atmosphere,” Steves said.

Most other proposals before Metro involve building an all-new conventional incinerator, which Steves said would significantly boost greenhouse gas emissions in the region because of the additional carbon released from burning waste plastic.

He said he’d only support the Lehigh proposal if coal use is displaced and opposes any other option involving a new incinerator.

Steves previously opposed Metro’s solid waste management plan, which calls for construction of a new waste-to-energy plant to burn garbage that can’t be recycled and end the trucking of trash to the Cache Creek regional landfill.

Metro is now weighing various potential sites, including Lehigh’s Delta plant, with community consultations expected to start later this spring.

Lehigh, owned by Germany’s Heidelberg Cement Group, projects its greenhouse gas emissions will significantly decline if garbage replaces coal as its main fuel, which it says is a best practice at several of its plants in Europe.

The cement plant can also burn natural gas, when it’s cheap enough, and already burns some alternative fuels, including car tires and demolition waste.

Lehigh says there would be no residue to be landfilled – all ash becomes part of the cement product – while any conventional garbage incinerator would still have to send large volumes of ash to a dump.

If Lehigh’s cement plant is chosen and delivers what it claims in terms of emissions, Steves said Metro could also approach Lafarge about adapting its Richmond cement plant as well if more garbage must be burned.

He said a cement kiln retrofit will be much cheaper than an all-new incinerator – estimated at $500 million – and it should also be easier to scale back the burning of garbage in favour of other fuels over time.

“Once we’re recycling 100 per cent of the plastic, they can go back to burning coal,” Steves said.

He said that would address a major concern of opponents – that building a new incinerator locks the region into having to feed it indefinitely, deterring further advances in recycling.

“It’s a lot better than adding an additional incinerator to the one that we have already.”

Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said the FVRD has major concerns with Lehigh’s plan.

The FVRD disputes Lehigh’s estimates on greenhouse gases, arguing they will go up not down if garbage becomes the main fuel.

It also argues burning garbage will put residents at greater risk from the release of toxins during less-optimum burning conditions compared to the use of coal.

“Coal is a relatively homogenous fuel, whereas each load of garbage creates an unpredictable and constantly changing chemical soup,” according to an FVRD analysis.

It says ultra-fine particle emissions pose significant health risks but aren’t measured by cement plants.

“All you’re doing is replacing one dirty fuel with another dirty fuel,” Ross said, adding it would be better if cement plants were compelled to use natural gas instead.

“Why were they allowed to burn dirty fuels like coal and in some cases tires in the first place?”

She said the cement plant would need wood, paper and plastic – highly recyclable materials – and allowing them to be burnt would contradict recycling efforts.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said she’s heard little local reaction to the Lehigh proposal.

Although Lehigh is zoned industrial, she said Delta requires specific rezoning and a public hearing if it’s chosen.

Metro aims to develop new capacity to burn up to 370,000 tonnes more garbage each year, in addition to the 280,000 tonnes that now goes to the existing Burnaby incinerator.

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