Saturday, May 25, 2024

Outrage Over Waste to Energy Proposal Could Have Been Avoided

By Stephen Vance, Editor

The controversy and public angst over a proposed waste to energy facility in the Municipality of Meaford need never have happened at all, and though he might not know it, my eight year old son can tell you why.


The other day I watched with fatherly pride as my son set about creating a very intricate battle scene with his large collection of knights, wizards and dragons. With bamboo logs and dozens of rocks, he built protective walls around a multi-level structure at the top of which a king was housed inside a tent that also served as a command centre of sorts.


Two archers were positioned on that top level, arrows at the ready to protect their king, and down below, knights on horseback created a line of defence that only the most foolish of opponents would have attempted to engage.


At one point I thought I would offer some help by positioning one of the armoured action figures on a platform only to be told “No, he doesn’t go there.” When I asked why I was told that the position was wrong, and it left the king vulnerable to attack.


You see, this eight year old had taken the necessary steps to implementing a successful venture.


He had established a goal (to protect the king), he had developed a plan, and every decision he made had to support the goal, otherwise the plan would fail.


Meaford’s CAO Frank Miele, has said that proposals such as the potential waste to energy facility are a result of council having directed him to seek out opportunities for Meaford to become a “green community.”


A noble goal indeed. And Miele is correct that council has given the direction to explore “green” opportunities for the municipality.


But where is the plan? What does it mean to become a “green community?” Why does the Municipality of Meaford want to become a “green community?”


Answers to these important questions should be the foundation of any “greening” program.


Over the past couple of years council has expressed a desire to be seen as leaders amongst Ontario municipalities with regard to the greening of our community. Council wants Meaford to be viewed as a progressive, innovative community.


That too is a noble goal, but is that enough of a reason to head down the “green brick road” and into the land of Enviro-Oz?


Should becoming “green” be about a philosophy that ultimately creates a cleaner, healthier, and by extension a safer place for us to live, or should it be about generating revenue?


Has the municipality defined what it means to be a “green community?” Has a vision been established that outlines what benefits can be realized by the “greening” of Meaford?


There is no question that every community should be seeking out ways to lower their impact on the environment, and ultimately increase self-sufficiency and sustainability. Many communities are indeed finding new and creative ways to accomplish such a goal. And they are succeeding because they first decided why they wanted to embark on such a project, they developed a vision, and they then established a plan of implementation.


Every decision, and every proposed project is then held up to the “green vision” in order to determine whether the project supports the ultimate goal for becoming “green.” If every now and then one of those initiatives results in cost savings, or even generation of revenue, then that can be seen as an added benefit to the focus of conservation and sustainability.


The “green” proposals that have been brought before Meaford’s council thus far though, don’t seem to be targeted at lowering our environmental impact or increasing sustainability. They instead seem to be opportunities to cash in on the provincial Feed in Tariff (FIT) program.


So is the goal to “green” the municipality, or to generate revenue?


If the focus is to generate revenue, then it simply shouldn’t fall under the umbrella of “greening” our community.


Take for example the proposal to offer up the rooftops of municipal buildings for solar panels.


That could very well be a project that could support the philosophy of a “green community” if the goal was to use the energy generated to reduce the amount of energy that the municipality currently purchases from the pre-existing power grid.


Such an initiative would lower the environmental impact of the municipality by using an energy source such as solar, and it would increase self-sufficiency and sustainability by reducing the reliance of the municipality on the electrical grid.


Instead, the proposal brought before Meaford’s council is to lease the rooftops to an external entity who would then sell the power generated at inflated prices to a power grid that already has more energy than is needed to power our province.


Not exactly a “green” initiative, but most certainly a revenue generating initiative.


The same is true for the proposed waste to energy facility.


Certainly all municipalities should be working toward a solution for the looming garbage disposal issue, however any truly “green” initiative would focus on the root cause.


The root cause of the garbage issue of course, is that we generate too much trash.


An innovative, leading edge community as Meaford’s council has claimed they want to be, would tackle the root cause by exploring ways to reduce the amount of trash destined for landfills.


The Municipality of Meaford has started down that road. They have seen significant reductions in the amount of trash collected at the curb through the expansion of their green bin program. That is an excellent first step, but there is much more that can be done on that front that would be truly green initiatives.


If a green vision for our municipality existed, surely establishing a facility that will see thousands upon thousands of tonnes of municipal waste being trucked into our municipality to be gasified in a facility located on property that is sandwiched between a residential home and an apple orchard would not be on the cover page of such a document, as it would go against the very notion of creating a cleaner, safer, and healthier community.


Is there a place for waste incineration or gasification in the arsenal of solutions to the waste disposal problem? Quite likely, but a “green” initiative would locate such facilities at existing landfills, and away from residential neighbourhoods.


Had a well thought out green vision and plan been the first task in the initiative to “green” Meaford, I suspect a proposal such as the waste to energy facility would never have made it to the council table.


Why? Because the goal of any “green” initiative should be the protection and improvement of the environment in which we live.


The environment is in essence the “king” in the world created by my eight year old, and the archers would have shot down such a proposal before it ever had a chance to harm the king, let alone anger his subjects.


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