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This Article is part of the Up in Smoke special report See the full report

Big money for one company if Metro Van pushes incinerator plan through. Here's who'll make it.

 Just a pile of ugly garbage to you and me.  Huge money to one lucky player.  Maybe. Third in a three-month series.

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Multi-national incinerator proponents

Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management Inc.  Wheelabrator has teamed up with Spanish multinational waste management company Urbaser to present two proposals before Metro Vancouver for WTE plants near Nanaimo. Waste Management is a $15 billion, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) listed company whose fifth largest shareholder is Bill and Melinda Gates.  Other shareholders include some of the biggest banks and investment firms in the world, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Wheelabrator operates 17 waste-to-energy plants in the US and UK, with one more in development, and three fuel burning independent energy plants. Not surprisingly, the company also owns and operates two landfills solely for ash.

Lehigh Cement of Delta, a division of the German giant Heidelberg Cement is also bidding for Metro Van’s garbage. Heidelberg is the world’s third largest cement producer, employing 52,000 people in 2,500 locations around the world. The company wants to burn metro Vancouver’s garbage to create fuel for its Delta plant. Currently the company burns coal, natural gas and even car tires to produce the energy needed for its cement product. Burning garbage will reduce greenhouse gases presently pumped into the atmosphere above Delta.

A third WTE proponent is Covanta Energy, the operator of Metro Van’s 25-year old waste-to-energy plant in Burnaby. The $2.3 billion NYSE-listed company is headquartered in New Jersey and operates 45 waste-to-energy plants around the world. Covanta has two WTE proposals for Metro Vancouver, including a mass gasification plan that even the company vice president says isn’t fully developed.

“This process is a lot more complex, it’s tougher to control, it has taken us time to get to the point where we can get it on to a commercial scale, “said Covanta vice president Chris Baker to Metro Van’s Zero Waste Committee in November.

In 2013, Covanta was fined for violating New York State law when it installed a new smokestack on its Niagara Falls incinerator without proper permits. The move was part of a company plan to upgrade its plant and rail lines to handle a half million more tons of garbage from New York City.

And in Ireland, Covanta was involved in an incineration plan for the city of Dublin that eventually collapsed because of a lack of funding. According to The Independent, before the deal fell through, Dublin city council signed a contract with Covanta in March, 2012 “that obliges the local city authority to supply a minimum amount of waste to the plant each year or face financial penalties.”

In metro Vancouver, the prospect of a guaranteed flow of garbage to feed a possible incinerator has incensed some local waste hauling companies. It’s also opposed by City of Vancouver directors on the Metro Vancouver board who make up the largest contingent. Metro Vancouver did pass a controversial by-law in October that requires all garbage generated within Metro Vancouver boundaries to be processed at regional facilities. But some say this by-law, which has yet to be approved by Victoria, is simply an incentive that ensures a steady flow of garbage to an incinerator and which could scuttle future recycling innovation. More on this later in the series. 

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Special reports

Up in Smoke

A plan by the Metro Vancouver regional authority would have taxpayers spending half a billion public dollars on an incinerator to solve the region’s garbage problem.  Would that send Vancouver's...