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Questions raised in South Surrey by Andion corporate changes

Opponents of Semiahmoo RNG application say reorganization creates doubt
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Changes in the corporate structure of Andion Global Inc. introduced a note of uncertainty late last year into the future of the controversial Semiahmoo Andion Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) project.

But an Andion Global representative told Peace Arch News Friday (Dec. 29) the changes – observed by local critics watching the company website – are simply due to the sale of an 80 per cent interest in its North American subsidiary to a team of its executive management.

The resulting entity – currently undergoing re-branding – is a “healthy, debt free, stand-alone business,” Andion Global marketing head Ashley Brookes maintained.

“We stand 100 per cent behind, and will continue to develop all of our projects including the Semiahmoo RNG project,” she said.

READ ALSO: $14 million announced for Semiahmoo First Nation renewable natural gas facility

The contentious biofuel project, to be built on SFN land, is designed to transform garbage – including food waste – into RNG, but has been met in recent months by a wall of opposition from residents skeptical of Andion assurances that air pollution from the proposed plant would be negligible.

Robert J. Pierson of the Clean Air Alliance of Canada – among opponents of the project – noted in a pre-Christmas media release that names of key company personnel of the project were removed from the Andion website sometime on the weekend of Dec. 16-17.

Among them were Andion president and CEO Phillip Abrary, and chief technical officer and vice president of business development Daniele Chiodini, both of whom were prominent, along with Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell, in an online public information session about the biofuel proposal on Nov. 9.

Metro Vancouver environmental regulation and enforcement director Kathy Preston – who also appeared in the online information session – confirmed Dec. 28 that the project is still awaiting her ruling on its air quality permit application.

“As of the end of December 2023, the application (from Semiahmoo RNG GP Corp.) is in the public notification process and a decision on issuance of an air permit has not been made,” she said.

“Our understanding is that Semiahmoo RNG GP Corp. is a partnership between se’mya’me (Semiahmoo First Nation) and Andion Global.

“If a permit is issued it will be issued to Semiahmoo RNG GP Corp., and both the company and its directors will be held responsible for compliance with the permit.”

At press time calls to Chappell asking for comment on the Andion reorganization had not been returned.

READ ALSO: SFN to take full responsibility for stewardship of bio-fuel plant - Chappell

Pierson pointed out that both Abrary and Eric Streeter – previously listed as executives of Andion Global – are among the directors of Semiahmoo RNG GP Corp.

But he said there still appears to be a great deal of confusion about the companies involved in the project, none of which is dispelled by the latest statement – which, he said, raises more questions than it answers.

“If Andion North America Ltd. (has been) the company that owns, and is developing, all of the company’s North American RNG projects, why has Andion Global Inc. dealt with everything?” Pierson asked.

“And in what way does Andion North America own the permit application in the name of another company?

“Why would there be a name change? Wouldn’t it have been far more professional to issue a statement, and carry out the changes, after everything was finalised?”

An online search Dec. 29 for Andion North America Ltd. revealed only that the company was “temporarily closed.”

The Andion Global website, while continuing to note that the company is headquartered in Vancouver, listed only addresses for offices in Sweden, Italy and Switzerland under its contact information.

“We are currently transitioning all of the data, establishing a web site, completing the name change and so on, so if someone today looks online they will see the Andion Global site that has removed the North American projects and teams,” Brookes explained.

“Unfortunately, despite the regulatory oversight and third party reassurances relating to pollution, traffic, or noise, some folks are still concerned and searching hard for anything that might confirm their fears,” she added.

“This demerger will allow the new North American entity to operate in a much more focused way on North American projects, yet retain the deep expertise of our Italian engineering team that are available to support our projects as needed, although the mid- to long-term strategy is to continue hiring engineers in North America and build up a local and fully independent North American RNG platform.”

But Pierson said he is not satisfied with the current statement.

“There are no specific answers to detailed questions regarding this project,” he said, adding that third-party reassurances offer “no guarantees of responsibility or assurance of remediation or removal” if there are ongoing issues after construction.

“Some (of us) are concerned that we’ve been consistently misled, that this project is far too close to residential and sensitive areas like schools and seniors facilities.

“Questions (have been) raised regarding the proposed discharge of 40 tons of toxic gases annually near these sensitive areas, near recreational facilities, and in the local SFN community.”

Pierson said that further discord has risen from an air dispersion report submitted by Tetra Tech, which relied only on “cherry-picked” data submitted by Andion.

He contended it downplayed expected odours, saying they would exceed acceptable levels mainly in fall and winter when residents stay in and windows wouldn’t be open.

This claim – contested by local residents – did not take into account the wide adoption of HRV continuous ventilation systems in modern homes, Pierson said, which would likely draw in polluted air “24/7”.

Pierson said has been researching RNG projects – such as that proposed by Andion – for years on a national and international level.

He added he has a professional background in construction, wastewater management and anaerobic digestion (the process through which bacteria break down organic matter, such as animal manure, wastewater biosolids, and food wastes, in the absence of oxygen, utilized by biofuel plants).

Pierson was quick to point out that while he was formerly working with the White Rock and South Surrey ‘Clean Air Alliance’, in opposition to the project, they are now pursuing different paths.

The locally-organized group, he noted, has been concentrating on appearing before White Rock and Surrey councils, asking them to put pressure on Metro Vancouver to reject the project.

“I prefer to concentrate on researching the corporate and financial background of Andion internationally,” Pierson said.

He added that his interest also extends to “the mechanisms in place under Canadian procedure and law” to ensure the use of public funds (Natural Resources Canada announced a $14.4 million federal investment in the project last June, and the Central Bank of Canada has promised equity support) is in the best interests of “indigenous peoples and their lands.”

Pierson said he supports SFN pursuing clean-energy projects, but believes there are better alternatives than the current RNG proposal.

“While I have received personal threats, on which I have consulted the RCMP, I feel it is important to the public interest that information is shared,” Pierson said.

More information on the Clean Air Alliance of Canada can be found at thecleanairalliance.org and www.facebook.com/thecleanairalliance/

More to follow