$63M plan for Hartland Landfill includes making gas from food scraps

Up to $63 million in improvements to the Hartland Landfill will be up for consideration by Capital Regional District directors Wednesday.

CRD staff are recommending spending about $23.7 million to build a facility to clean up and convert landfill gas into usable natural gas.

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And, staff say, the region should proceed with an anaerobic digester system at a cost of between $25 million and $40 million to process food scraps into biogas.

The expectation is both projects will be funded through money on hand, grants and borrowing, said Larisa Hutcheson, CRD general manager parks and environmental services. “We’re very optimistic that this [gas conversion] project would attract grants both at the provincial and federal level. Alternative fuels is really where the province of B.C. is putting their grant opportunities as well as the feds.”

By the time the CRD issues a request for proposals for organics processing, it might be looking for a private-sector partner that could bring money to the table, she said.

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. In addition to biogas, it also produces a soil supplement.

The organics transfer station at Hartland Landfill currently accepts kitchen scraps at $120 per tonne.

But it costs the CRD $145.89 per tonne to have kitchen scraps hauled to the mainland for composting — a difference that is expected to cost the CRD about $400,000 this year.

Were the CRD to build a composting facility here, it would cost between $2 million and $8 million, staff say.

But the CRD has had a troubled history with organics composting.

In 2013, the region contracted with Foundation Organics to deal with kitchen scraps on a Central Saanich farm.

The CRD pulled the operating licence in less than a year after neighbours complained about strong odours.

Since then, Greater Victoria’s kitchen scraps have been either hauled from Hartland to a recycling plant in Cobble Hill or taken to the Lower Mainland.

Gross operating costs for a composting facility are estimated to range from $60 to $100 per tonne compared to gross operating costs for anaerobic digestion of $100 to $135 per tonne, staff say.

However, the higher cost of anaerobic digestion can be significantly offset by revenue from the sale of biogas, while composting cannot be expected to generate any revenues other than tipping fees.

Waste buried in the landfill produces gas including methane, or biogas that is generated from decomposing organic waste.

Currently, Hartland Landfill gas is collected and used to generate electricity that is sold to B.C. Hydro.

But the volume of gas exceeds the capacity of the power-generation equipment.

So staff have evaluated two options:

• Install a gas processing plant at Hartland to create renewable natural gas which can then be sold to FortisBC. (Estimated capital investment $23.7 million; annual maximum return 12.7 per cent.)

• Expand the existing power generation equipment and sell more electricity to B.C. Hydro. (Estimated capital investment $4.5 million with annual net revenues of $300,000).

CRD staff have prepared detailed business cases for the gas-conversion options and are recommending they be considered by directors behind closed doors “to ensure potential contract negotiations with B.C. Hydro or FortisBC are not compromised.”

Hutcheson acknowledged that the capital investments are high but said rates of return are better.

“On the organics processing side, anaerobic digestion really is a way to process organics in a controlled manner,” she said, adding that the process “also produces biogas which we can put into the renewable natural gas facility and really amplify the benefits there.”

The staff reports say production of renewable natural gas “opens up several opportunities” for the CRD to show climate leadership toward meeting its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

There is more environmental benefit in cleaning up the landfill gas than simply using it to generate electricity, Hutcheson said.

“Electricity is already green because with the hydro electricity, you’re not offsetting fossil fuels. So that’s really where the benefit is, you’re offsetting the fossil fuels.”

The market also favours gas, she said.

“We can actually do better upgrading and selling our gas as gas than converting that gas into power.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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