As reported in St. Albert Today, mayor Cathy Heron of St. Albert, Alberta sees the opportunity of partnering with developers and incorporating waste-to-energy facilities into neighbourhoods over the next five years.  Located just northeast of Edmonton with a population of 66,000, St. Albert has one of the highest rates in the province according to the Recycling Council of Alberta at nearly 65 percent.

The mayor’s vision of the future can be traced back to a Smart City Master Plan first prepared by the City in 2016 and recently updated.  The plan calls for smart approach to waste management that would include the identification of partnerships, the utilization of new technologies and innovations, better practices that better serve the community, and a reduction of the ecological footprint.  The Smart City Master Plan calls for the exploration of collaborative ecosystems and the circular economy as a way of reducing waste and developing new economic models:

  • Reduce the influx of single-use plastics and other products that are difficult to
  • Develop new ways of dealing with waste that currently cannot be recycled
  • Examine waste-to-energy technologies
  • Ensure that hazardous waste is processed appropriately

In the view of the mayor, the household waste generated in neighbourhoods could be used to generate heat, electricity, or some other source of fuel (i.e., transportation fuel). “Once you have that energy output, you can do anything with it, right? We could heat our sidewalks with it, we could heat our homes with it … we could sell the electricity off the grid and make it a revenue generator”, the mayor stated in her interview with St. Albert Today.

Currently, municipal waste from the city is disposed of at the Rose Ridge Landfill, approximately 20-km from the city core.  Utilizing the waste as fuel within the neighbourhoods it in generated will result in a reduction in the cost of transportation along with a reduction in greenhouse gas generation.

A 2018 report funded by the Dutch government found that microgrid technologies could make a local “techno-economy” 90 percent self-sufficient, through the decentralized sharing of energy at the local level between multiple households.

Vision of a decentralized microgrid Community (Photo Credit: Metabolic)

With respect to the negative stigma associated with a waste-to-energy facility being located in the near vicinity of a residential neighbourhood, the mayor stated in St. Albert Today, ““You can disguise the (unit) on what looks like a house. Garbage would be picked up in the area and delivered right within that area to a waste-to-energy generator.”

There is already a potential private partner interested in the mayor’s idea.  Averton Homes is planning a three-phase development, which would include 800 residential units, seniors housing and commercial properties.  “We are early in those conversations, but there’s a willingness on both parts to explore it because there’s a need for us to think creatively as an industry, and I think there’s a need for the municipalities to do so as well,” said Averton president Paul Lanni in St. Albert Today.

The City is already funding $1 million towards a one-year pilot demonstration of a waste-to-energy gasification system at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.  The total capital cost of the pilot system is estimated to be $4 million.  St. Albert is relying on partnerships and grants to cover the remaining balance.

There is skepticism that St. Albert’s smart city approach to waste management would be economical.  A white paper on waste-to-energy provided to city council in early 2019 found a gasification/pyrolysis-based system would cost $57 to $806 per tonne of waste, depending on the technology used.