Plasma Arc Project in Ottawa, Canada: Updates from Charlene Lemoine and Bradley Angel

Plasma Arc Project in Ottawa, Canada: Updates from Charlene Lemoine and Bradley Angel

Date: 12 May 2015 | posted in: waste - anti-incineration, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

After 10 years of battling against a proposed garbage/plasma arc facility by the citizens in Ottawa, Ontario, the plant was approved. The political battle was lost. However the market has dictated that the plant would not be built anyway. It was too risky for investors. The effect of the demise of the Ottawa plant will ripple all the way to California. “This should be the final nail in the coffin of their proposal in the Salinas Valley of California that Greenaction and residents had stopped,” stated Bradley Angel, director of San Francisco based Greenaction for Health and the Environment.

Hours after Plasco announced they were entering bankruptcy in Canada, the Mayor of Ottawa announced the city is ending its relationship with Plasco!

Although opponents greeted the news about Plasco filing for bankruptcy warmly, there will be more incineration proposals to come.  It appears the City of Ottawa will continue to pursue some form of incineration, despite a healthy 40+ years left of landfill capacity; capacity which could be increased by 20 years with the proper investment in recycling, composting and reuse. A recent poll, however, showed overwhelming support for another try at incineration.

Press reports and a timeline of the 10-year battle, see:

After Plasco: City looks to increase diversion, find new technology – Ottawa Citizen, February 2015

Ottawa severs ties with Plasco as company files for creditor protection – Ottawa Citizen, February 2015

“With a green bin collection you would think Ottawa would be a proponent for Zero Waste, but they appear to be looking for another trash burning answer,” says Charlene Lemoine, a zero waste activist.

Bradley Angel, Greenaction for Health and the Environment, based in San Francisco, CA, describes legal, financial and technical problems the plant faced in a February 2015 report.  The report also reveals Greenaction’s legal and political approaches. Angel is an award winning environmental activist having been awarded the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award in 2008.

For more information contact:

Charlene Lemoine

Bradley Angel


A report from Greenaction follows:

Victory for Clean Air, Health and Justice! Plasco’s Plasma Arc Incinerator Projects in Ottawa, Canada and Gonzales, California Fail

February, 2015 was a bad month for the Canadian company Plasco Energy Group and the waste gasification (so-called “conversion technology”) industry, but a very good month and vindication for community, environmental and environmental justice groups who have been opposing the company’s existing and proposed plasma arc garbage incineration plants.

According to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in Canada (February 10, 2015), “On the same day that city officials recommended that Ottawa end its relationship with Plasco Energy Group, the home- grown waste-management firm filed for creditor protection, resulting in the loss of 80 jobs and the end of an era for a company once considered a shining light in the local clean-tech industry. The city’s relationship with Plasco is “for all intents and purposes” done, Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday after learning of the news…Plasco was unable to secure financing for its commercial plant by Dec. 31, missing its third and final deadline under the 20-year contract that would have paid Plasco $9.1 million a year to take up to 300 tonnes of garbage a day.”

The Ottawa newspaper also reported that “It’s also possible that in addition to financial troubles, Plasco may have also been dealing with technical issues. In November, Plasco informed the Ministry of Environment that it planned to reduce its plant size, which included changes to its drying and cooling system, storm-water management, and a reduction in engines from 10 to seven. Plasco did not publicly address why it was making those changes.”

In 2010, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) found that the Plasco demonstration plant was struggling with smog-causing emissions, and had not proven it can be successful. Despite emissions problems, Plasco did receive commercial permits for their Ottawa, Canada project but never could get it operational.

The attempt to site a plasma arc garbage gasification facility in California also was plagued with problems. In 2007, the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (SVSWA) established a “Conversion Technology” Committee to identify technologies that could convert solid waste into energy and that would be suitable for the Salinas Valley of California. In 2011, SVSWA picked Plasco and its plasma arc technology for a facility proposed to be built in the predominantly Latino, Spanish- speaking farmworker town of Gonzales. Virtually no residents were informed of this process, and the entire process was in English only.

Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice learned of the project and promptly alerted a broad range of allies about the proposed plasma arc project, including community members, community groups including Asamblea de Poder Popular de Gonzales, labor unions including Laborers International Union Local 297, and state Assemblyman Luis Alejo, and they worked together to oppose the Plasco project due to pollution and environmental justice concerns. Greenaction and allies across the nation and world have been opposing plasma arc and other gasification projects as “incinerators in disguise” that are not pollution-free or proven technologies as is often claimed, and as they undermine zero waste efforts to reduce the amount of garbage generated in the first place.

Protests and meetings were held, civil rights complaints were filed against the SVSWA, and dozens testified at the public hearings. When legislation was introduced in the state legislature to help companies like Plasco get renewable energy designation, opponents rallied groups across the state to defeat it.

Days after Plasco announced it was filing for bankruptcy in Canada, Greenaction and Asamblea challenged the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (now called Salinas Valley Recycles) to officially end the project. Greenaction received the following response from Patrick Matthews, General Manager of Salinas Valley Recycles who was the driving force behind the Plasco project:

“At this point, too much time has passed since the Plasco project was tabled for it to be resurrected where we left off (if the company remains viable through reorganization). Any future consideration of a “new” Plasco or other commercial thermal Conversion Technology project would require restarting CEQA or re-issuance of a new RFP. Pending clarification of state regulations that create a clearer pathway for these types of projects, SVR is not currently planning to pursue a project of this nature in the immediate future. We will continue to monitor CT technology advancements and other project’s ability to secure entitlements in CA under new and proposed regulations and share any findings with you. Thanks for your inquiry.”

Greenaction issued a victory statement, saying in part:

“Greenaction is not surprised at Plasco’s bankruptcy and inability to start their troubled plasma arc gasification plant in Canada. This is vindication of our opposition to their failed attempt to build a plasma arc waste incinerator in Gonzales in the Salinas Valley that threatened the health, environment and economy of the Salinas Valley.”

State Assemblyman Luis Alejo issued a statement that said in part:

“Having fought the same type of incinerator technology in his hometown of Watsonville in 2008, Alejo was not surprised to see the proposal by Plasco come to fruition in the City of Gonzalez, which has very similar demographics: Spanish-speaking, community of color, and of low socio-economic status. In Gonzalez, civil right complaints were filed by community members and many questions regarding environmental impacts were raised. Joining Alejo in his efforts was Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. As the state representative for the city of Gonzales, I stood in support of my constituents’ strong opposition to the project and civil rights complaints given the lack of public input in the decision-making process and adoption of the pilot program. This program would have been detrimental to the communities of the Salinas Valley.”

In 2008, Greenaction had alerted Assemblyman Alejo and Watsonville residents that Santa Cruz County Public Works Agency was pushing a plasma arc project in that farmworker town, and the head of that county project was the same Patrick Matthews who left Santa Cruz and took the SVSWA job in Salinas after Alejo and Greenaction worked together to form the Pajaro Valley Coalition for Environmental Justice that defeated the Watsonville proposal.

John Bailey
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John Bailey

John Bailey is ILSR's Development Director.  He was also a senior researcher at ILSR from 1992 until 2011, specializing in decentralized energy policy and analysis.