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A policy debate over organic waste and biogas


An interesting contest of opinion has opened up between the association that represents the private sector waste management industry in Ontario and an association that represents stakeholders who wish to increase the amount of organic waste managed via on-farm anaerobic digestion (AD) equipment.

To help readers understand the issue, I present (unedited) below three items. They’re a bit out of sequence but I think it’s the best way to follow the story. Reading this sheds insight into technical and marketplace issues around appropriate end-of-life management of organic wastes.

It’s worth noting that in a comment on our website, policy analyst Peter Hargreave of the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) wrote: “…The OWMA have been strong supporters of organics diversion, including AD. This is well documented in our most recent ReThink Waste Report, in numerous government submissions and recent policy papers (http://www.owma.org/Publications/OWMAReportsandPolicies.aspx). It is however important to have rigorous environmental standards, which is what we have argued for.”

Anyway, the first item is a letter to the editor from Jennifer Green of the Biogas Association.

The second item is a news story from our website presenting concerns about increased on-farm Ad from the OWMA.

The third is the detailed policy recommendation letter from the Biogas Association to Ontario’s environment ministry, which offers technical guidance in how the final regulatory changes should be written and implemented.

So, first here’s the letter to the editor:

 

Dear Editor,

Further to your article of July 9th regarding OWMA’s concerns over Ontario’s on-farm AD expansion proposal (link below), I would appreciate a similar opportunity to update you and your readers of existing AD developments and close to five years experience of operating on-farm AD’s in Ontario.

AD facilities are permitted to receive and process organic residuals that are prescriptive in nature and volume, in accordance with the nutrient management regulation, and in combination with available on-farm materials (i.e. livestock manure).  In addition to capturing energy from waste, on-farm AD’s provide a very integrated and practical opportunity for managing manure, protecting groundwater sources, recovering nutrients, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil health, and reducing other energy intensive fertilizer alternatives.  Approximately 30 AD systems are now operating successfully within the Province of Ontario offering a safe, reliable, and environmentally sound option for the diversion of organic materials.

I have also attached for your information, a copy of the Biogas Association’s submission to the Ministry of the Environment regarding the proposed changes to the Nutrient Management regulation.

I look forward to connecting with you in the coming days.

Regards,

Jennifer Green

Biogas Association

275 Slater Street, Suite 900

Ottawa, Ontario  K1P 5H9

Tel: (613) 822-1004

www.biogasassociation.ca

 

 

Next, here’s the website news story (based on an OWMA news release):

 

DAILY NEWS Jul 9, 2013 10:13 AM – 1 comment

OWMA has concerns over Ontario’s on-farm AD expansion proposal

OWMA supports making on-farm facilities viable, but concerned about industry impact

By: SWR Staff

2013-07-09

The Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) has expressed concern about safety risks and a lack of environmental standards surrounding the idea of on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities expanding their ability to process off-farm waste materials, as proposed by two Ontario ministries.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food have proposed amendments to O. Reg. 267/03 to provide more on-farm anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities with the option to be regulated under the Nutrient Management Act instead of seeking a Renewable Energy Approval or Environmental Compliance Approval under the Environmental Protection Act.

This change would allow on-farm AD facilities to increase the percentage of off-farm materials that they can use from 25 per cent to 50 per cent rather than having to obtain other approvals.

“Although increasing off-farm materials will lead to greater biogas production and make on-farm AD facilities more viable, it also increases risk,” OWMA Director of Policy Peter Hargreave wrote in a July 6, 2013 letter to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment

The ministries’ proposal aims to increase farms’ use of nutrients derived from crop production by-products safely; encourage an increase in the amount of manure treated by AD before land application; improve soil health by returning organic matter to crop lands, and; augment the production of green energy from on-farm ADs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

There are currently 24 operational on-farm AD facilities, according to OWMA. These facilities can process some 195,000 tonnes of off-farm waste materials. The OWMA expects an additional seven facilities over the next three years.

“The government needs to be very careful not to inadvertently turn ‘farm operations’ into waste management facilities that lack the same degree of oversight as the rest of the sector,” the OWMA added in its letter. “Current on-farm AD facilities have little to no ability to pre-process materials to remove contaminants.”

The OWMA says it’s concerned about the lack of standards around farm’s output materials. The association says farms should have to meet maximum contaminants guidelines and perform testing for metals, nutrients and digestate stability.

The OWMA also expressed concern about the proposal’s impact on the health of the organics diversion sector.

“These changes may create an unlevel regulatory playing field for organic wastes that are managed at 0ff-farm waste processing facilities,” writes Hargreave. “This has the potential to interrupt the current flow and availability of feedstock for organic waste processing facilities as it is pulled to on-farm facilities and therefore the economics of these facilities.”

 

Lastly, here’s the policy letter from the Biogas Association:

 

Chris Goode
Ministry of the Environment Environmental Programs Division Modernization of Approvals Project 135 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario
M4V 1P5

June 25, 2013

The Biogas Association applauds the combined efforts of the Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Food to address the environmental approvals process for agricultural anaerobic digester systems regulated under the Nutrient Management Regulation. Based on the recent commitment by the Ontario government to the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) Program, biogas applicants continue to advance under FIT2 and new developments are emerging. The proposed amendments are therefore timely in terms of guiding new and existing biogas projects and we look forward to the implementation of these changes to the regulation; although, we do recommend the development of a Best Management Practice Protocol to manage some of the process related parameters under consideration. A BMP Protocol is proposed as it would be more readily modified to accommodate ongoing technical developments

The following comments are provided on behalf of the Biogas Association membership in response to the Ministry of the Environment’s proposed amendments to O.Reg. 267/03 (EBR No.: 011-8998) for Regulated Mixed Anaerobic Digestions Facility (RMADF) Requirements.

Material Input Thresholds

The Biogas Association supports the change to allow upwards of 50% off-farm materials to be treated in a RMADF. The increased threshold, in combination with annual limits of 10,000 m3 and daily limits of 200 m3 for off-farm materials, will allow for greater operational success while also providing measures that protect the environment. Currently there are agricultural-based biogas systems operating successfully that treat between 25-50% off farm materials under Certificate of Approval. Similarly, the ability for an operation to receive on-farm materials from other facilities to an upset limit of 2,000 nutrient units is considered a reasonable and beneficial approach.

Siting, Technical and Design Requirements

A number of proposed changes relate to the siting, technical and design requirements for RMADF, which the biogas industry deems acceptable. The current regulation did not provide setback distances for RMADF on non-livestock farms; as such the proposed wording provides clarity and is considered reasonable.

We support the requirement for structurally sound, engineered systems that are designed to minimize leakage, corrosion and noise and would note that existing, operational biogas systems have achieved these measures. Other proposed requirements, such as permeability for gas storage and provision for primary and secondary liquid sampling ports, are also reasonable provisions with nominal impact to overall operation and maintenance costs.

In previous correspondence provided by the Biogas Association, as of December 1st, 2012 guidance and direction on matters relating to technical safety fall under the jurisdiction of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) – Interim biogas code SPE 149. It is therefore recommended that specific technical requirements, such as secondary combustions (TSSA section 6.4.1.3) and pressure relief valves (TSSA section 9.7) remain within the TSSA code to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion. With respect to the proposed continuous monitoring of the pressure relief valve, the Biogas Association supports this measure as a reaction to odour complaints, but does not endorse it as a blanket measure across all biogas systems, especially given the low number of odour complaints from biogas plants to date.

With respect to ensuring proper treatment of off-farm materials, the biogas industry proposes an alternate approach to minimum hydraulic retention time, which is FOS/TAC measurements as presently promoted by OMAF. FOS/TAC values are a measured ratio of the volatile organic acids (FOS) and the buffer capacity of digestate. FOS/TAC measurements are widely adopted in Ontario and Europe and provide biogas operators a more direct understanding of the biological health of their systems, particularly where manure treatment is concerned. This approach has also been endorsed by OMAF in their support and training to existing biogas operators. It is also important to note that the provision to consider reduction of volatile solids by 50% is not likely achievable with a manure based system if measured at the digester as is implied in the proposed changes. It is also counterproductive for those who are looking to recover the fibres for other purposes, like animal bedding. Based on these points, we propose that section 98.9 (1) Paras 4 and (3), (4) be revised to state that a RMADF be operated at or below a FOS/TAC ratio of 0.8 measured on a weekly rolling average.

While we do not agree that a substrate independent minimum hydraulic retention time is a suitable design parameter for biogas systems, the biogas industry recommends that design and performance parameters are best addressed within a best management guideline that can be modified to adapt to technological changes over time, without involving the political process of going through parliament. The Biogas Association offers to develop a BMP for biogas together with government staff and other industry stakeholders. As a performance measure, we would propose using FOS/TAC parameter to define system stability and performance within the proposed best management guideline.

Operational Requirements

The proposed changes that deal with operational requirements are also supported. As a best management practice, many existing facilities have incorporated signage to appropriately identify components and address emergency measures. The proposed requirement for signage is considered reasonable.

Although off-farm materials can generally be delivered within the hours of 7am and 7pm, it is important to note that delivery of off-farm materials is consistent with other agricultural practices (i.e. milk truck pick up, delivery of feed supplies, land application of manure); activity which is all necessary regardless of a schedule. There are also occasions where weather or other factors can impede the frequency of materials received.

The provision for off-site treatment of materials is considered reasonable so long as it strictly supports current on-site treatment requirements and safe transportation protocols. The Biogas Association recommends that in addition to the identical heat treatment required on farm, that the off-farm waste generator be required to sign periodic declarations acknowledging the suppliers responsibility for material treatment and environmental security.

Schedules and Metal Concentrations

The proposed change to the level of metals in AD inputs is considered reasonable as is the addition of pet food to the list of schedules. Similar to pet food, it is noted that winery waste is not captured under the current definition of farm feed. It is suggested that the definition of farm feed be expanded to include winery waste.

Closing

In summary, the proposed amendments to O.Reg. 267/03 (EBR No.: 011-8998) are anticipated to have a positive impact on the development of agricultural anaerobic digester projects and the development of the biogas sector as a whole. They also closely align with the government’s related goals to support renewable energy, environmental protection and agri-innovation in Ontario.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Green, President Biogas Association

c.c. Moira McIntyre, Ministry of the Environment Marcia Wallace, Ministry of the Environment Michael Keegan, Ministry of Agriculture & Food Julie Jamison, Ministry of Agriculture & Food


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