Point Aconi power plant one of Province's top polluters

Frank Potter of Sydney Tar Pond Agency joins Ian MacNeil
Radio Transcript - CBC Information Morning - Sydney
CBC Cape Breton
Thurs., Sept. 25, 2003

IAN MACNEIL: The Point Aconi power plant has been named the fourth worst polluter in NS by an environmental watchdog. An opinion challenged in the last half hour of CB's Information Morning by NSP. Margaret Murphy touted the technology used to burn coal at Pt. Aconi as among the cleanest in the world. That technology has been selected as a method to clean up the Sydney Tar Ponds. To talk about an apparent contradiction and concern, we've called Frank Potter, an engineer with the NS Tar Ponds Agency and he's on the line this morning. Hello Mr. Potter. What is the way they burn coal at Pt. Aconi?

FRANK POTTER: Well I think the Pt. Aconi spokesperson, Margaret Murphy, said that the power plant there is a modern coal burning plant and she explained that the fluidized bed process, which is a fairly modern technology for coal burning at power plants. It's not perfectly clean, but it's much cleaner than the old technology that's in use for example in Lingan.

IAN: How much cleaner?

FRANK: The pollution watch had rated I guess the Lingan plant as the worst plant. Pt. Aconi came in as the fourth one in terms of the levels of emissions coming from it and it depends on the capacity of each plant.it's different. The information we've had, we've been looking at the Pt. Aconi plant, was that the Tar Ponds sludge that was recommended for burning there, would be almost, pretty much the same as the coal that was going there in the first place. So the actual emissions coming from the plant wouldn't vary from what was being emitted today from the plant.

IAN: What's the name of the technology that is said to burn better?

FRANK: Well, it's the fluidized bed technology is what's recommended and I think the big reason that the community, when they looked at the options for the Tar Ponds cleanup, the big advantage of using fluidized bed technology was, at the Pt. Aconi power plant, for every ton of coal that was being burned, you'd displace that one ton of coal with one ton of sludge. The big advantage was no new and net emissions. You'd essentially have the same of emissions coming from the plant as opposed to, for example, is we were to build another incinerator, for example in the Sydney area to burn the Tar Ponds sludge, you would still have the emissions coming from Pt. Aconi plus you'd have emissions coming from a new facility somewhere in another local area.

IAN: So when you hear from this group, Environmental Defense Canada, that Pt. Aconi emits pollution, what goes through your mind?

FRANK: I think everybody agrees that we have to look for cleaner ways of generating power and as Margaret Murphy indicated, before they were always looking for cleaner technologies, cleaner sources of coal and looking at alternatives such as wind power and other ways of getting the reductions down, the fact still is that we're heavily dependant on coal burning for power generation in NS for a long time.

IAN: Let's turn our attention to the possibility that Tar Ponds sludge may be burned at Pt. Aconi. What would be the impact on the environment?

FRANK: There really wouldn't be. We've had our experts take a look at that when we were going through the short listing of options for cleaning up the Tar Ponds and you have to remember that with the Tar Ponds, as much as it's got that terrible reputation across the country for being Canada's largest toxic waste site, the waste, in essence, is coal and the product that came from the Coke Ovens was coal and it's by-products and when you dig up the sludge and you put it into a container and put it into, for example, an incinerator or a coal fired power plant, it really isn't that much different from a comparable kind of coal.

IAN: So what makes you so confident in the fluidized bed technology? That it would do the job on the Tar Ponds sludge.

FRANK: We've talked to other locations where that's being used in a co-burning operation. If you recall a few years ago Ian, there were people in here from Germany who were involved with cleaning up very similar types of coke plants in Germany and they've built a couple of co-burning operations over there and have been very successful at it. The emissions have been within the standards established by the regulators and people who've looked at the Sydney Tar Ponds coal sludge and have said yeah it's very comparable to what's being done in Germany. The technology used in Germany are essentially the same kind of coke plants that were in Sydney and they've indicated that burning the coal in Pt. Aconi is not a concern from an emissions point of view. Now, we've heard form the people in the community of Pt. Aconi and they're clearly not interested in having the Tar Ponds sludge coming there and government has heard that message quite loud and clear and that's what's going to make it a very difficult decision for government to ultimately pick a final solution for cleaning up the Tar Ponds.

IAN: Given this week's reaction from the Environmental Defense Canada Group and the opposition voiced at Pt. Aconi, what's the likelihood Pt. Aconi will be chosen to burn the sludge?

FRANK: Well, there's been no final decision. Both the federal and provincial governments are looking hard right now at all the options and government has, both levels of government, have a very difficult task. There were no options that were favored options. Every option had opposition to it. Some people do not want the site to be touched and they prefer it to be capped. Some people would prefer it to be dug up and incinerated. Some people prefer it to be dug up and co-burned. Governments are looking at a variety of those options and whether Pt. Aconi was chosen or not is hard to determine. That's eventually for government to make that decision, but certainly they're going to have to consider the fact that the community of Pt. Aconi made it very, very clear, they do not want the sludge going there.

IAN: Mr. Potter, good of you to join us this morning.