Public information session held for proposed Tidewater Renewable Biodigester Project

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Foothills County held a public information session for the proposed Tidewater Renewable Biodigester Project on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the High River town hall.

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This was an information session only that was live streamed and they did not allow any verbal questioning or comments during the presentation. All questions had to be submitted a week before the meeting.

“There is no decision for Foothills County to make as this application is being considered under the authority of Alberta Environment, in an application under Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA). Other provincial regulators that have a decision-making role in the proposal for the biodigester include the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB), and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC),” said Foothills County Reeve Delilha Miller.

Foothills County Director of Planning Heather Hemingway told all those in attendance and those watching live online that there has been no municipal approval process undertaken for the future potential development of the biodigester.

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“A waiver of a development permit for this approval was granted… Foothills County took the position that this project should be reviewed and considered by the technical experts at Alberta Environment, the NRCB and the AUC, all of these being the provincial level regulatory bodies that have oversight of this proposal. Foothills County has deferred the requirement for land use redesignation and development permit until the provincial regulatory bodies have provided their approval, if they provide their approval,” stated Hemingway.

Throughout the past three years, Foothills County staff have been in regular contact with Tidewater Renewables regarding their proposal. They are aware of the Tidewater traffic study that has been completed and discussions about the additional paving on Meridian would be necessary. Concerns from the community surrounding lighting for the biodigester and the feedlot have been discussed.

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“Tidewater wanted to commence some of the grading work prior to receiving their approvals from Alberta Environment. Foothills County told Tidewater that if they did commence the grading, this was at their own risk, which they acknowledged. The County did review the engineered grading plans and the sediment and erosion control plans.,” said Hemingway.

Due to the impact on the community from that work, the County and Tidewater agreed to hold off on earth work until approvals are in place.

Alberta Environment representative Darren Bourget is a regulatory assurance manager in southern Alberta who works with the approvals and compliance teams. He said that the Rimrock Renewables EPEA (Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act) application was received on June 13, 2022.

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“The application was designated as a waste treatment facility. The administrative complete analysis was done on July 15, 2022. A public notice of the application was published in the High River Times on July 22 and notices were hand-delivered to residences within a two-kilometre radius of the proposed facility. Nine statements of concern were submitted in response to the application and were determined to be directly affected,” said Bourget. “The applicant is currently working on the concerns and will submit information to be included in the technical review of the application. It is estimated that a decision will be made this Spring.”

Tidewater Renewable representatives led a six-part, two-hour information presentation on the history of the area, current feedlot operations at Rimrock Feeders including many details on the proposed facility, before and after effects and benefits to the area and stressed that “Rimrock is committed to being a good neighbour”.

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At Rimrock Renewables, there are over 40 consultants working on the project and of those, there are over 20 full-time project personnel.

Cody Halleran is a senior air quality and regulatory professional and is the co-founder and managing partner at Horizon Compliance Group in Calgary.

“We understand how important it is to stakeholders, landowners and the community that this project does not make existing odours worse,” said Halleran.

Halleran said that in order to understand the impact that the project may have, it is necessary to understand the current situation. He pointed out that there are three other feedlots in the region and that there are many different places within a feedlot that can produce odour, including pens, manure and catch basins.

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“These are all sources of odours. So why do they smell in the first place? Knowing what actually causes these odours is important,” said Halleran.

“The purpose of the renewable natural gas plant is to capture the natural occurring gases, process it and generate renewable natural gas. We do this by collecting the manure at the Rimrock Feedlot, prep it and then allow the digestion to occur inside of a closed system instead of being admitting into the atmosphere.”

Deputy Reeve Rob Siewert also asked Halleran about the 42 per cent reduction in odours based on his modeling and asked if it included the “fact we are hauling in 80,000 tons of material from Calgary and not just feedlot manure.”

“The modelling was based on both the manure and the organic food refuse from the city received on site,” replied Halleran.

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Siewert then inquired about the manure piles, especially in preparation for winter.

“Excellent question,” said Boisvert. “What our experts in manure handling have done is conducted tests on the manure stockpiles and we have found that we don’t need to stockpile a large amount of manure in a heated environment to try to thaw potentially frozen manure. A relatively small pile will, it’s a biological process from the organisms within the pile that helps it not freeze. The outer layer will crust and freeze but the inner layer won’t even in extremely cold temperatures. We are actively looking at the air flow venting design.

“The plan is to vent the building up and away from the surface as much as possible and not vent out the sides. To bring any odour from the manure handling building up and away into the winds as possible to mitigate odours. As part of our supplemental information requests from Alberta Environment, we are actively assessing that with air quality assessments.”

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Those in attendance laughed out loud and groaned at Boisvert’s answer at venting the manure smell back into the prevailing winds.

District 7 Councillor R.D. McHugh asked about the liquid ponds and the smell related to that, to which he was applauded by those in the gallery.

“We can confirm that we are actively looking at ways to mitigate odour from the liquid digestate pond and we’d also like to remind the folks that this facility is being built adjacent to a large feedlot and we are also proposing to bring in 60,000 tons of organics,” said Boisvert. “This is going to result in 400,000 tons of liquid digestate annually. We are actively looking at reusing liquid digestate in the process.

“Current calculations are showing that 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the liquid digestate could potentially be reused in the process. We are looking to submit a more detailed liquid digestate pond design in the future.”

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McHugh said: “So we have heard a lot on the digestate and the liquid now but the only example for the use of the liquid was an injection system. Is there going to be any processing of this product? ”

DPH Focus senior process engineer Rod Facey replied, “If the council and public are interested in understanding what the chemical composition of the liquid digestate is, we can prepare a summary and provide it back to the council and the public as general information.”

McHugh then asked Tidewater who was verifying their carbon credits, to which Boisvert replied, “We have publicly released that we have signed a 20 year off-take with Fortis BC to purchase the environmental attributes associated with the renewable natural gas. With regards to fertilizer, currently the manure at the feedlot is being spread locally and the manure will be processed in a digester which is essentially a treatment system.”

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To that McHugh corrected the Tidewater director as he was not satisfied with the answer, “You haven’t answered the question. You are not sequestering carbon; you are burning it. It’s renewable gas, so you are burning it and releasing the carbon. Carbon is sequestered when it goes into the soil and is captured.”

Boisvert later said it was the British Columbia Utilities Commission that verified the carbon credits.

After the presentation, Foothills County Reeve Miller said, “I think it was a very informative session and that was the reason we wanted to have it for our residents who would get a lot of first hand information.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation going around the community and I think this really helped our residents get the actual information and that was our intention. It was a very well-done presentation and we are certainly happy a lot of people came to it.

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“As a council, we are cautiously optimistic on this and we have it be because we just don’t know until it gets up and running. We are hopeful that it will mitigate a lot of the smells over the area and into the Town of High River as well.”

Councillor McHugh said he wasn’t sure what to say when he was asked about the presentation.

“It’s such a difficult situation. This is a public meeting, not a public hearing. This was the first time I had heard this presentation and there were some things I thought they should have been better prepared for. This just leaves me with more questions to ask.”

Barry King, a local farmer who lives east of the Rimrock Feedlot, said that he got a lot out of the presentation and that “it was excellent. It’s one of my first experiences with this kind of meeting and I got a lot out of it.

“I found the councillors put a lot of thought into their questions and we need to find out more answers. Tidewater is a big company with a lot of resources. It’s going to be a process, that’s for sure.”

The full Tidewater Renewables presentation can be viewed on YouTube through the Foothills County website.

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