The Ministry of the Environment has given its approval to the Woolwich Bio-En biogas plant, much to the dismay of Woolwich Township council, and the Elmira Bio Fuel Citizens Committee.
The approval comes only a month after the township had met with provincial ministers at the recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference, in an effort to find a new location for the biogas plant.
"This is a bit of a shock," said Woolwich mayor Todd Cowan, after the March 27th council meeting. He noted that the township had presented an alternative, "perfect" location that could be used for the biogas plant, one that the Woolwich Bio-En proponents were willing to investigate.
Cowan did not reveal the alternate location, citing privacy concerns.
"At the last (ROMA) conference, the parliamentary assistant offered to pull together a meeting with Chuck Martin (of Woolwich Bio-En) and ourselves, and the Ontario Power Authority," said Cowan. "We were really ticked (to hear the news)."
The approved location of the Woolwich Bio-En plant would be at the end of Martin’s Lane, at the north end of town, just next to the feed mill on Arthur St. N.
The approval will place limits on the amount of daily truck traffic to and from the site, and require that the plant comply with noise and odour emission limits.
Cowan said that these conditions were really not enough to alleviate the township's concerns.
"We were unhappy with the location, so don't try and pat us on the head," said Cowan. "We've come to you with a very workable, doable, perfect relocation.
"We are not against green energy; we are against the location."
At the March 27 council meeting, councillors approved a motion to investigate the potential for an appeal to the Environmental Appeal Tribunal, and also gave direction to Cowan to talk to the Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley, as well as Premier Dalton McGuinty, in hopes of getting the decision overturned.
An appeal, while permitted, is unlikely to have much success, given the appeal process for Renewable Energy Approvals. An appeal, to be granted, must present valid concerns on how the project "will cause serious harm to human health, or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment."
Dan Holt, president of the Elmira Bio Fuel Citizens Committee, was also upset by the news.
"I think it pretty much flies in the face of everything that the township has been doing, negotiating (a new location,)" said Holt.
He noted that during the initial review of the application, more than 200 Elmira residents submitted letters outlining their concerns over the proposal, and a further 600 residents signed a petition opposing the plant.
And, while an appeal is possible, Holt was not optimistic about the end result.
"One message that we're getting is that the Ministry of the Environment has decided they don't give a rat's ass about what happens in Elmira," said Holt.
Chuck Martin, one of the principals involved with Woolwich Bio-En, was out of country at the time of the announcement. He was reached via email to comment on the success of the application.
Martin said he had limited access to the actual approval from the MOE, and was looking forward to being able to review the various requirements in the approval.
"I am anxious to review the approval as issued," said Martin. "I need to review both the approval and the recent amendments to the FIT program to better understand the project status and possible time lines. If there are no major hurdles in the approval or the FIT program changes, then construction in 2013 and operating in early 2014 may still be possible."
Earl Brubacher, also involved with Woolwich Bio-En, was at a tour of a biogas facility near Goldstone, only a few days prior to the approval.
At the tour, he indicated that he felt many of the residents' concerns about the potential for odour at the plant to be unfounded.
Brubacher pointed out that similar-sized biogas plants in Austria are built without any odour control measures, and are built in close proximity to residential development, with no concerns.
In Elmira, the proposed plant would have up to $1 million in odour control equipment, said Brubacher.
"The big concern isn't there."
The appeal period will end on April 14, 2012.