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SAEWA chair confronts council perceptions

Posted on April 23, 2014 by Taber Times

Recent decisions by the Town of Taber and Municipal District of Taber to back out of the Southern Alberta Energy From Waste Association (SAEWA) plan to create an energy-from-waste facility has prompted a reaction from that organization.

Referencing comments made by individual Town of Taber councillors about the nature and probability for success of the SAEWA project (quoted in the March 5 Taber Times article “Town council withdraws support for SAEWA”), SAEWA chair Kim Craig had serious concerns about some of the perceptions of individual councillors that were voiced publicly at town council’s Feb. 24 meeting.

“We hope the members of the general public don’t have the same perceptions as the councillors,” said Craig. “It came off that Taber town council doesn’t put much credibility or faith in the organization. I respect each council’s decision. Each community has to meet their needs as best as they can. I respect that each has to deal with these things on their own merits, in line with what their priorities are.”

SAEWA is a coalition of municipal entities and waste management jurisdictions in southern Alberta, and is committed to research and implementation of energy recovery from non-recyclable waste materials to reduce long-term reliance on landfills. Established in 2009, SAEWA is seeking to foster sustainable waste management practices that contribute to overall resource efficiency. In a March 17 response letter to Taber town council, Craig outlined the present goals of SAEWA, but indicated the organization felt compelled to confront some of town council’s comments in the “interest of clarity and accuracy.”

Any suggestion that the SAEWA organization is incompetent or lacking in expertise Craig called a dangerous inaccuracy.   

“I would rate them very high. We have a world-class engineering firm giving us guidance and expertise. We’ve had the same firm for a number of years, and they’re very competent. The membership of SAEWA has some members that are very well-versed in the energy from waste field, and very well versed in how landfills operate, and bring their own individual skill sets to the organization. I feel our organization is very lucky to have individuals with these skill sets. There is a wide scope of expertise and perspective.”

Craig also took issue with any question about SAEWA requiring the support of large urban municipalities to be successful, citing a 2010 SAEWA study that confirms that within the SAEWA footprint sufficient quantities of waste exist to support the establishment of one or more WTE facilities without relying upon larger urban centres.

“I would say that’s been a myth right from the beginning. The study that our organization had commissioned shows there’s enough municipal solid waste within the footprint of SAEWA excluding Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Calgary — what they call big cities. When we did the initial assessment of the waste stream, that was when we were in the low fifties of municipalities as members. When Taber and the M.D. made their decision we had over 70 municipalities. In that footprint, there’s more than enough waste to fuel a waste-energy facility.”

A comprehensive regional waste resource study completed by SAEWA has shown 366,000 tonnes of waste that is available annually.

Allegations that SAEWA meetings are somehow “staged” or do not support democratic principles are also inaccurate, according to Craig.

“Over time, we’ve adopted bylaws and become more and more formal in our approach. One of the things that happened at the end of last year at our annual general meeting, is we purposely engaged a registered parliamentarian to help us make sure that we ran the annual general meeting in an open and transparent fashion. As the person that had to chair the meeting, I felt it was very awkward and cumbersome to chair the meeting with such formality in place. It felt awkward to me, and I’m sure it looked awkward to observers, but it was because we were very adamant that we wanted to be procedurally correct in our approach.”

SAEWA is creating a project development plan to establish a waste-from-energy facility that could handle the processing of municipal solid waste generated primarily from within its membership, as well as selected wastes from other sources.

An expressions of interest request recently returned interest from 24 technology providers and six potential host communities for the project.

SAEWA held an information session in Champion on April 11, and is finalizing selection of a facility site and what technology will be used with the waste-to-energy facility.

“The project development plan is in its final stages through our engineering firm. We should have a draft proposal of our siting, procurement and communications plans in the next two or three months. So we’re making lots of tangible progress in those areas. Our initial business plan is coming together, so we should have that in the next two or three months as well.”

Should either municipality (Town of Taber, or M.D. of Taber) choose to reconsider their decisions in future, Craig noted the Taber and District Regional Waste Management Authority (TDRWMA) might have to negotiate on a client basis, rather than as a shareholder.

“Either one of two things will happen. Either we will have the ability to allow them to re-enter the membership, with certain terms and conditions. Or else instead of being an equity partner or a stakeholder, they may end up being clients instead of owners. I don’t envision that our group would want to firmly shut the door on any member that are re-evaluating their position with out organization. We’re still early enough into the process that we can still make adjustments for those that revisit their position.”

The estimated cost to build a waste-to-energy facility for southern Alberta has been pegged at approximately $400 million.

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