Public left in the dark as Peel quietly cancels $124M organic waste facility
After weighing options for an organic waste facility since 2017, Peel Regional council quietly scrapped the approved $124 million project last year with next to no public engagement.
The anaerobic digestion facility (or renewable natural gas centre) was set to revolutionize the way Peel collects green bin organics. It was supposed to sit at 125 Orenda Road in Brampton and divert 90,000 tonnes of waste from Peel landfills.
Since 2017, the Region has been increasing the amount of organic waste given to Emerald Energy, which operates a waste management facility used in Mississauga. That year, Peel gave Emerald 3,449 tonnes of waste, and the volume soared to 11,632 tonnes in 2019. The pandemic created a slight decrease to 10,179 tonnes in 2020, which is still over the 10,000-tonne agreement with Emerald.
The anaerobic digestion facility was a crucial step in creating more landfill space for the increasing population and expanding the green bin program to allow other household items like diapers and pet waste.
According to Regional staff, “the scrapping of the anaerobic digestion facility does not significantly impact the lifespan of the landfill as it was going to replace the Region’s existing composting system and use of merchant organics processing contracts.”
The Region entered into an agreement with Enbridge Gas Inc. to operate the renewable natural gas (RNG) centre on the same site, owned and operated by Enbridge, which would have transformed waste into gas to be put back into the Ontario energy grid. The process of breaking down the matter and creating biogas is called anaerobic digestion.
The residue left over from the waste is used as fertilizer.
The waste plan would see Peel benefit greatly from a new facility and harness methane gas into a renewable energy source.
(The Region of Peel)
May 27, weeks before the plan was cancelled, Norman Lee, Peel’s director of waste management, provided an update to council on the numerous benefits of the new facility and next steps. The project was touted as a grand solution to Peel’s waste issues and for years had received the optimistic support of council members, who through votes approved the various steps of the plan. At the time, the RFP phase (to attract a successful private partner to build the facility) had closed and staff were accessing the bids.
“It takes a long time to go through these processes and to make something happen,” Councillor Jennifer Innis said at the May 27 meeting, urging expediency. “And the longer we take the more money it will cost.”
Lee concluded his presentation with a slide explaining that council would receive a recommendation report on July 8 and all agreements with the successful bidder would be finalized October 2021.
However, at the July 8 Peel Region Council meeting, a communication from Jim Nardi, a senior consultant with Anaergia, a waste conversion company, advised the Region against pursuing the $124 million facility.
In a letter addressed to Councillor Ron Starr, chair of the public works and waste committees, Nardi stated, “The $124M digester will replace the existing in-vessel composting facility originally built in 2007. The primary driver to construct the AD (anaerobic digestion) facility is the need to increase the total waste diversion rate above 70%, and the AD will allow recycling of pet waste and diapers via pre-processing technology.”
Nardi’s letter continued.
“However, as Peel prepares to award a contract to build and operate its new AD facility, there are serious concerns about the costs involved that justify further review in light of alternative, cost-effective models.”
So, at the eleventh hour, after years of planning and after the RFP’s bidding process had ended, another private company suddenly advised scrapping the whole plan.
At the same July 8 meeting, when Nardi put forward his company’s last-minute position, another last-minute communication was included on the agenda, this one from a duo of waste management companies, Cornerstone Renewables and ProWaste Solutions. Though the letter is marked “Confidential” in a watermark, it was included on the public portion of the agenda.
It stated: “Cornerstone and ProWaste are submitting this unsolicited proposal today and are pleased to provide the Regional Chair Nando Iannicca, the Chair of the Waste committee Ron Starr and all Council members an immediate long-term, cost-effective solution for the Region’s SSO (Source Separated Organics) today and into the future.”
The unsolicited pitch went on.
“In collaboration, Cornerstone and ProWaste Solutions are driven to provide the Region of Peel a comprehensive, minimal risk, long term solution that achieves the Region’s Anaerobic Digestion (AD) goals for their Source Separated Organics (SSO). Over the last five years and more recently the last two months we have been listening to council meetings and staff reports on the updates to the Regions (sic) plans on building their own AD facility to process their SSO. After taking note to councillor Ron Starr’s questions too (sic) staff for clarification and concerns on the AD project and staff’s responses with an emphasis there is no processing capacity in the marketplace, Cornerstone/ProWaste felt compelled to submit to the Region this proposal and informed opinion to shed some much-needed light and clarity on processing capacity in the marketplace.”
The informal offer letter stated: “Our pricing will most certainly save the Region hundreds of millions in capex and millions in processing costs over the lifetime of the contract. Our network of reliable AD facilities already exists, built when the price of material was significantly less expensive and meets all current regulations. As a reminder Cornerstone already accepts and processes approximately 20,000mt annually of the Region’s SSO with a clean record of meeting all of Peel’s contractual obligations and environmental guidelines; This solution enables the Region to expediate the achievement of all its goals in a significantly faster timeline.”
It’s unclear if regional staff or council have considered the offer or if it played a part in the sudden scrapping of the $124 million plan.
When the issue of cancelling the project and tearing up the RFP was unexpectedly raised at the July 8 meeting (when a recommendation report was supposed to have been brought forward by staff so a bidder could be selected and all agreements could be finalized by October) the matter was placed on the in camera agenda, away from the public, meaning decisions and the possible contemplation of costs from bidders were dealt with out of the public’s view. In this meeting that barred public input, and was supposed to decide the partner for the $124 million project, council instead heard recommendations from staff and suddenly scrapped the project.
It’s possible that bids came in much higher than the estimated price.
The minutes of the meeting state: “That the Request for Proposal 2019-287P to Design, Build, Operate and Maintain the Peel Renewable Natural (RNG) Centre (the “Request for Proposal”) be cancelled in accordance with its terms; And further, that the Region pay up to $200,000 in fees to Enbridge Gas Inc. for the studies and design work required for the RNG injection station in accordance with the Backstop Letter Agreement dated January 31, 2020 between Enbridge Gas Inc. and the Region.”
Councillor Starr moved a motion, seconded by Mayor Patrick Brown, to pay Enbridge Gas Inc. $200,000 for the study, design and work on the RNG injection. Members of council then voted in favour of the motion, except for Councillors Gurpreet Dhillon and Annette Groves who abstained and Councillor Dipika Damerla who was absent.
No communication was put forward from the Region explaining to taxpayers the cancellation of the project or what alternatives are being considered. The snap decision was made after years of work and planning, leaving climate change and waste diversion targets up in the air.
Regional staff told The Pointer in an email Peel is, “assessing organics processing options and exploring the development of a mixed waste processing pilot project.”
It’s unclear why this was not considered before the RFP process was initiated years ago.
Councillor Starr confirmed with The Pointer two reasons for the cancellation of the plan, due to an “increase in costs” and “newer systems being more advantageous.”
“With the new technology, we think that we can come up with something that's a lot better,” Starr told The Pointer.
He has been assured by staff that plans for a facility are still in the works, and the process won’t take as long since a lot of the groundwork has been laid.
The Region has a goal to divert 75 percent of organics away from the landfill by 2034, a bold target to assist broader climate change goals and to address the landfill capacity issues. In 2018, the last year for which data is available, the Region was hovering at about a 50 percent diversion rate. The addition to the green bin program of pet waste and diapers, will divert 25,000 tonnes annually from the landfill.
In a May 20 staff report, the facility was called, “one of the most impactful projects,” Peel has pursued to “demonstrate progress towards greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”
Currently, the Region is using thermal energy, which burns organic materials. Burning food waste takes a lot of energy, especially because of the high quantity of water within the products. Breaking down organic waste in a digestion facility is more fuel efficient because it can create natural gas, whereas incinerators need to dry products out to create steam energy.
Starr told The Pointer he hopes to see an updated report from staff in the first quarter of 2022 on the next steps for the facility.
It’s unclear if the unsolicited offer to use existing private facilities will be considered.
Whether the public will be better informed remains to be seen.
Reducing, reusing and recycling organic matter will continue to happen at the current organics facility used by the Region of Peel, for the time being.
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