It’s all in the numbers. On reading about the Green Municipal Funding for the Cogeneration System at the Regional District of Nanaimo Wastewater Treatment Facility, you’d imagine that the system was making a huge dent in the electricity required to power Vancouver Island.

Cogeneration at [Wastewater Treatment Facility] will significantly offset electricity demands on Vancouver Island, prolonging the life of the aging submarine transmission cables that bring electricity to the island. This will also allow BC Hydro to provide service to additional users without adding capacity to the electrical grid, giving the utility more time to investigate new sustainable power options.

“Thanks to the help of the FCM, cogeneration at our facility will benefit electricity users throughout the Vancouver Island region, and strenghten our efforts for energy sustainability here in the RDN,” said RDN Board Chair Joe Stanhope. “Once our system is operational it may encourage other wastewater treatment plants in BC to pursue similar projects.”

Source: CivicInfo – Green Municipal Fund Supports Cogeneration System for Regional District of Nanaimo Wastewater Treatment Facility (emphasis mine).

I’ve found that most of this sort of talk is found in grant applications, for it is in these documents that the hyperbole of benefits is most apparent. Elsewhere in the article, it is understated that the power will simply offset some of the power requirements of the plant itself, but for the moment, lets focus on the claim that “Cogeneration at GNPCC will significantly offset electricity demands on Vancouver Island”.

The stated output of the project is 335kW, which represents the peak energy that could be produced by the system, but may not be an indication of a continuous supply situation. As we are talking peaks, and the claim is that the project will “significantly offset electricity demands on Vancouver Island”, let’s see what the peak demand on Vancouver Island is? About 2438MW (see table 2.1 of this pdf document), that’s 2,438,000kW. As such it is easy to conclude that the project impacts current demands by about 0.013%.

Even if we look at the regional district population, (being about 19% of Vancouver Island’s total), and assuming a linear relationship of energy consumption, this project would knock off about 0.07% of the Regional District’s total community energy consumption.

A note of clarification, before I start receiving emails that threaten to fry me in organically produced bio fuels – I don’t doubt the validity of attempting to capture wasted energy from bio-gases, but this is an example of greenwashing, and in the long run it hurts the cause of alternate energy by overstating the possibilities of such projects.

(Unfortunate) Fact: We will not be able to run entire communities and their current energy demands on non-conventional sources of energy – at the best, we can hope to offset very minor energy requirements, usually directly related to the operation the energy is being derived from.

About the Author: Mike Thomas is a Civil Engineer with experience in designing sewer treatment plants and other municipal infrastructure. He currently resides in Castlegar, BC.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.