Thursday, March 02, 2006
B! TALK DAILY: AND THE BULLS**TER OF THE YEAR AWARD GOES TO.....
Trash talk exudes a whiff of mystery
They say they can turn garbage into energy, insist they have a $60-million contract with unnamed companies to burn up millions of tonnes of Toronto-area trash, and count former Washington mayor Marion Barry -- famously re-elected after a conviction for cocaine possession -- as a supporter.
But the strange and contradictory story of First NRG, a virtually unknown company based in Hogansburg, N.Y., on the St. Regis Mohawk reserve, doesn't stop there.
Its founders say they are backed by "native cigarette manufacturers" and have had discussions about their gasification technology with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the vice-president of Sudan and Cuban officials. They also say they have won half of a $1-billion deal to process garbage in Jakarta.
Simon Romana, a New Zealander who says he is the inventor of the firm's gasification technology, says the machine uses "thermal reduction" to turn solid waste into gas that is then used to create electricity.
Reached on the phone yesterday, Mr. Romana said the firm plans to build two plants, both on reserves in Canada: one at Oneida Nation near London, Ont., and the other on Cornwall Island on the Akwesasne reserve, across the U.S.-Canada border from St. Regis.
The plants, Mr. Romana says, are going to process 1.5 million tonnes -- and perhaps double that in the future -- of "household" garbage a year from Toronto and other nearby municipalities, with the Oneida plant starting up June 1.
However, all of Toronto's residential waste is shipped to a Michigan landfill under a long-term contract with waste management giant Republic Services, which has had no dealings with First NRG. And senior City of Toronto officials say they have had no contact with, and have never even heard of, First NRG.
Mr. Romana would not reveal for publication the names of the private waste companies with whom he has signed what he says is a $60-million contract, saying the deal was "confidential."
There are other questions about the scheme. Construction has yet to begin at the Oneida site, according to Mr. Romana, which is to start accepting garbage in just three months. (The Akwesasne site, he said, should open six months later.) Mr. Romana says the facilities need no government approvals or environmental assessments, because they would be on native land.
But even the Akwesasne band council said it had not received any application for a gasification plant on its land, Chief Larry King said in a statement e-mailed by an aide to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Romana and investor Windell King, an Akwesasne resident, have been touting their technology in Washington, with visits last fall and this week, demonstrating what they said was a $1.5-million version of their machine that fits on a flatbed truck.
The visits were supported by Mr. Barry, now a District of Columbia councillor.
Mr. Romana said yesterday he was working on a deal with the District to build gasifiers to process 1,200 tons of the municipality's sewage sludge: "We're just negotiating it as we speak."
But Chris Peot, biosolids manager for the District of Columbia's Water and Sewer Authority, said no such deal was in the offing: "That may be what they want to happen. But it's not going to happen."
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