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Incinerator gets the red light

Region, Covanta to enter negotiations over next steps


Covanta and the region are disputing the method used to calculate how much ash is produced by the Durham York Energy Centre. The difference in the two methods would determine whether or not the incinerator passed its acceptance testing. Photo by Graeme McNaighton/The Oshawa Express

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Durham region and Covanta are disputing the results of the acceptance testing report for the Durham York Energy Centre.

The region says Covanta, the New Jersey based operator of the incinerator, failed its 30-day acceptance testing after producing too much ash in two separate tests at the Clarington site. Covanta, however, says that the amount it produced is within the amounts set out in the original contract.

The dispute comes down to how the amount of ash is calculated.

“There is a quantity guarantee that (Covanta) must be below,” Gioseph Annello, the region’s manager of waste planning and technical services, tells The Oshawa Express, of the contractual obligation that Covanta has in regards to how much ash is produced by the incinerator. “The problem here is that Covanta is now indicating to us that they feel the residue quantity does not include the pozzolan and cement used to encapsulate the fly ash, so they’re saying if you take out the cement and the pozzolan, they’ve met the guarantees.”

According to a report posted on the incinerator’s website, HDR, a consultant hired by the region, maintains that Covanta failed its two tests – one for five days and another for 30 – that measured the amount of residue produced. According to the contract between the two parties, the amount of ash produced cannot exceed more than 29.7 per cent of the tonnage that is incinerated for the five-day test, and 29.4 per cent for the 30-day test.

HDR maintains that Covanta’s ash production amounted to 29.9 per cent for the five-day test and 31.87 per cent for the 30-day test.

Covanta, however, says that without the concrete and pozzolan – a natural substance that turns into a concrete-like compound when it comes into contact with water – the test results show it produced 26.8 per cent for the five-day test and 26.7 per cent for the 30-day test – both of which are within the limits set out in the contract.

Annello says that the region and Covanta will now be entering negotiations to figure out what to do next.

“Within the contract, there is a provision for a dispute resolution, and that can go through various steps of negotiation, mediation, arbitration…so that has been activated, and we are starting at the negotiation stage right now, so everyone is preparing their positions,” Annello says, adding that there is no specific timeline at this point but that all parties want to get started “as soon as possible.”

“We’ve said all along, we will not accept the new Durham York Energy Centre until it is the state-of-the-art, energy-from-waste facility that we set out to build,” states Roger Anderson, the region’s chair and CEO, in a news release. “The facility is not there yet, although they passed all emissions tests, the amount of ash is up about 2.5 per cent more than it should be. The ash quantity issue will not impact operations, but we want this done in strict compliance with our contract.”

Covanta did not respond to The Oshawa Express’ request for comment before press time.

Environmental results

While the region rejected giving Covanta the seal of approval over the amount of ash being produced, it found that the environmental requirements were in order.

“Covanta has met all of the environmental requirements that were also approved by the (Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change). So that part, they passed. Where we had a problem…was the residue quantity,” Annello says.

According to results from the acceptance test posted on the incinerator’s website, Covanta met all requirements laid out in the contract when it came to source testing, noise and odours produced, levels of particles in the ash produced and metals recovered during the incineration process.

The tests also found that the facility was producing enough electricity to bring it into compliance with the contract, with HDR finding 846 kWh in net energy was produced per tonne of garbage processed.

The incinerator, according to the region, will produce 14 megawatts – 14 million watts – of net electrical energy on a continuous basis – enough to power approximately 10,000 homes.

Initially, the first stack test done at the incinerator recorded levels of dioxins and furans – byproducts of the incineration process that, according to Health Canada, can accumulate in biological tissues and lead to serious health problems if exposed in higher concentrations – many times higher than provincial regulations allowed.

According to an interoffice memorandum from Cliff Curtis, the region’s works commissioner, dated Oct. 29, stack testing at the incinerator found levels of dioxins and furans at 226 and 100 picograms per cubic metre respectively. The provincial limit for dioxins and furans is 60 picograms per cubic metre.

According to a letter sent by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to the Region of Durham in December, it was stated that that sample did not provide a proper representation of what was going on.

“They indicated due to concerns with sample integrity,” Curtis told regional councillors in the last meeting of regional council for 2015. “The results from the first test were not considered representative of emissions, and subsequent source testing was completed. So the first test was contaminated, so it was thrown out.”

According to the acceptance test report from Covanta, two separate labs – ALS Life Sciences in Burlington and SGS Environmental Services in North Carolina – identified interference in that result.

“The conclusion is that both labs identified interference,” the report reads. “ALS has assigned an estimate of 15 per cent to the TEQ, which should somehow be related to the increased weight attributable to the interference. However the method to assign that value is not understood given that there were 12 samples submitted for analysis. SGS has considerable experience in the analysis of samples from similar units and has stated that in their experience it is not possible to determine the actual bias, and that the samples are considered to be compromised to an unknown extent.”

More than a year past deadline

With calendars turning to 2016, the nearly $300-million Durham York Energy Centre is now more than a year late in getting into operation. According to the contract between Covanta and the region, the incinerator was supposed to be in operation by Dec. 14, 2014, or face a fine of $10,000 per day in liquidated damages for each day it isn’t in commercial operation.

At a meeting of regional council in February, councillors were told that the delay in getting the incinerator up and running by the December 2014 deadline would result in extra costs for the region of at least $250,000

In April, Greg Borchuk, a project manager with the Region of Durham, attributed the delay to slower than expected construction times.

“Construction was supposed to have been completed by, I would say, (late summer of 2014) or early fall (of 2014) and then we’d be in the commissioning and start up phase through the fall and have the plant running in December (2014),” Borchuk told The Oshawa Express at the time. “Because the construction took them longer than anticipated, that really pushed the overall schedule by six to seven months.”

At the time, Borchuk said he expected the plant to be fully operational by late August. However, the incinerator did not begin its acceptance testing until the end of September.