By Trevor Busch
Taber town council was seeking an update on a regional waste-to-energy initiative and its potential impact on more small-scale energy generation strategies locally.
“I’ve talked to a few people lately that are really talking a lot about generating electricity with their garbage,” asked Coun. Jack Brewin at town council’s Jan. 13 meeting. “Have we done any research into that at all?”
CAO Cory Armfelt pointed out the Town of Taber is no longer a member of the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA).
“That’s not part of our current suite of options for waste management. I believe council has pulled out of that SAEWA organization, but we could prepare — if council wished — an update report on the state of energy from trash, and the SAEWA organization.”
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.
Since its inception, one of SAEWA’s key projects has involved efforts to construct a waste from energy facility in southern Alberta.
“There’s been a lot of talk about that lately, and if we’re looking for a use for our garbage, that may be an option,” said Brewin. “I did hear a speaker from SAEWA at one of the meetings I attended over the past month, and it hasn’t changed since we were on it. Really, it’s the same holding pattern, it seems like. But they are choosing sites, which they were seven years ago as well. It may be interesting to see where they’re going and what’s happening with that, and what’s out there for energy.”
In 2014 the Town of Taber, Municipal District of Taber, and Town of Vauxhall all ended their memberships as part of SAEWA, with the Village of Barnwell following in early 2015. As of 2019, the M.D. of Taber has re-established its membership.
“I believe there’s smaller co-generation units — there’s one being put into Brooks, one in Medicine Hat, and one in Lethbridge,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “These are small actual units that are going ahead. I don’t have that information at my fingertips, but I do know that those three communities were selected for one of these generation units.”
“They were selected for test plots,” said Coun. Louie Tams. “They’ve not actually gone out and built it, they’ve just been selected for test plots, because these are kind of a stand-alone system.”
Tams wasn’t enthusiastic about Brewin’s idea for administration to investigate the status of the SAEWA organization.
“I happen to agree with our CAO (Cory Armfelt). We as council told SAEWA, with the costs, and the rest of it, and the fact it was going nowhere — so if we’re going to suggest to administration to bring us a report, I think they need some time to prepare that, and to look at some of the options that are out there.”
Brewin would put forward a motion for administration to investigate the status of SAEWA as part of a more comprehensive analysis of alternative energy programs and waste to energy initiatives.
During discussion of the motion prior to a vote, Strojwas objected to the inclusion of SAEWA as part of the investigation.
“He’s requesting that we look into SAEWA specifically. We discontinued from SAEWA a number of years ago. I think it should be amended just to look at future generation, and stay away from SAEWA. We made that decision some time ago.”
Tams made a similar argument.
“We pulled out for a reason, due to the fact that it was onerous, and very cost-prohibitive to the Town of Taber, and we were going nowhere. I like the thought, Councillor Brewin, of looking into alternative waste to energy and the new future, but I don’t think we need to open that door to allow SAEWA back in, because we got out for a reason.”
Brewin would refuse any amendments to his motion, while reiterating his desire to see an update on SAEWA from administration.
“I appreciate what you’re saying here. I actually was on a committee on SAEWA, and it was my recommendation to council at the time to step out of it, just because nothing was happening. But apparently they’ve chosen two sites in Vulcan now. I think it should be part of the plan of looking to see if it’s economical for us to produce power with garbage, or if SAEWA is going to be taking a big chunk of that and it wouldn’t be worth our effort.”
In 2014, shortly after previous council voted to discontinue its membership, SAEWA president Kim Craig had warned that should either the town or M.D. choose to reconsider their decisions in future, the Taber and District Regional Waste Management Authority (TDRWMA) might have to negotiate on a client basis, rather than as a shareholder.
“If we do look into SAEWA, perhaps they will ask us to pay for all the years that we opted out to get that information,” said Strojwas. “I can’t support this motion, and I won’t.”
Brewin’s motion passed by a 4-3 vote, with Tams, Strojwas and Mayor Andrew Prokop voting in opposition.
Past estimates of the cost to build a waste-to-energy facility for southern Alberta have been pegged at approximately $400 million.