Fernlea power play

Simcoe Reformer: Monte Sonnenberg - April 8, 2009

One county's trash is another company's treasure.

That is the moral of a story unfolding in Courtland now that Fernlea Flowers has unveiled plans for a $30-million co-generation power station. The fuel of choice? Norfolk garbage.

If everything goes according to plan, Fernlea will build a 25,000-square-foot power plant that will generate enough electricity to run 4,000 homes and enough heat to warm its massive greenhouse operation west of Delhi.

To do so, Fernlea plans to invest in leading-edge technology that extracts natural gas from common household waste. Fernlea hopes to enter into an agreement with Norfolk County for the delivery of five garbage truck loads of household waste per day. This works out to 25,000 tonnes a year.

"We are very supportive of this," Eric D'Hondt, Norfolk's general manager of public works, told Norfolk council last night. "We think this is a win-win all around. Our level of confidence is growing as we are talking."

Fernlea needs a certificate of approval from the Ministry of Environment to proceed. The system it is eyeing was developed by the Elementa Group of St. Catharines, which has a demonstration plant in Sault Ste. Marie. Jeff Howe, president of Fernlea Flowers, has been investigating the technology with the help of an independent consulting engineer.

"I don't know what other due diligence we can do," Howe said last night. "We've looked and we've looked and we've looked, and every time we've been satisfied that the process works."

Carbon-based waste serves as fuel for the process. Household garbage is shredded and fed into an air-tight gasification unit which produces synthetic natural gas as a byproduct. The process is odourless, does not require incineration, creates no toxic byproducts and leaves behind an inert residue that can be safely mixed with concrete, asphalt and other building materials. Plants like this have been in operation in Germany since 1984.

"It is a proven technology," said Elementa president and CEO Jayson Zwierschke, adding he intends to work closely with the county and community now that the proposal is on the table.

Fernlea is one of North America's largest producers of garden plants. It hopes to secure a permit from the Ontario Power Authority to provide surplus electricity to the provincial grid. The company hopes to flip the switch on the new facility within two years.

Technology of this sort has the potential to completely change the waste disposal equation in Norfolk and Haldimand. At great cost, Norfolk and Haldimand are preparing to close the Tom Howe Landfill in Springvale and open a new dump in Canborough near Dunnville. D'Hondt says the counties will have to re-evaluate their partnership if the Fernlea proposal succeeds.

Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus mentioned last night that he has been speaking with another investor group that also plans to convert household waste into electricity. Columbus said groups like these will not only compete to process municipal waste, they will also pay for the right to recycle waste stored in landfills such as the one in Springvale. Mayor Dennis Travale says Norfolk could use a break like this right about now.

"Municipal waste could prove to be a gold mine," he said. "We'll have to see how that plays out. I will be very excited on the day when I go to the Tom Howe site, put a shovel in the ground and start mining that material out of there."

Article ID# 1515318

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