Biogas facilities have been around in Canada for decades, mainly to treat sludge at wastewater treatment plants. There’s now a trend in this country to use anaerobic digestion (“AD” — the method used to produce biogas) on agriculture residuals, food waste, and even source-separated organics (SSO).
One of the accelerators for the interest in biogas is various provincial government incentive programs, including: BC’s carbon tax and FortisBC’s opt-in RNG program; Quebec’s $200 million funding for municipal anaerobic digestion; and, FIT programs implemented by Nova Scotia and Ontario.
Under Ontario’s FIT program, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) guarantees renewable energy produces a set rate for a 20-year period. For qualifying biogas facilities, the price ranges from 10.4¢ to 19.5¢ per kilowatt-hour, depending on the size of the facility and its location (i.e., a farm biogas facility that produces less than 100 kW of electricity would receive 19.5¢ per KW-hr).
There are an estimated 300 biogas facilities across Canada (including anaerobic digesters used to treat biosolids at wastewater treatment plants); this is a drop in the bucket compared to Germany with over 7,000.
Biogas generation involves the anaerobic digestion of organic material (i.e., farm or food waste). The anaerobic digestion process (the eating of the organic material by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen) produces methane and carbon dioxide (biogas). The biogas can be combusted to generate heat or run a generator to produce electricity. It can also be used as a fuel in vehicles.
It’s important to note that biogas generation is different from waste-to-energy (WTE). Food and farm waste naturally degrade either aerobically or anaerobically, regardless. An anaerobic digester merely captures the energy potential from natural degradation and puts it to good use.
As a renewable fuel source, the advantage biogas has over wind or solar is that it can be easily stored for on-demand use. The other advantage is that it solves two problems at once: organic waste management and energy needs.
In Germany, the world leader in biogas development, the biogas industry has contributed $1 billion of direct investment to that country’s economy and created over 46,000 green jobs. The Canadian Biogas Association estimates similar economic opportunities exist in Canada.
There are definite challenges in developing a biogas facility.
Jennifer Green, Executive Director of the Canada-based Biogas Association, lists sourcing feedstock, getting grid connection, and environmental approvals among the challenges. She also says it’s important to properly site a facility to limit concerns about nuisance issues like odour. (However, a properly designed and managed facility should not have nuisance issues.)
With all the positives seemingly surrounding further development of biogas sector in Canada, it’s hard to imagine who would be against an industry that produces renewable energy, creates green jobs, and boosts the economic fortunes of the rural and agricultural committee. Nonetheless, there are opponents.
The rural municipality of Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario is mainly a farming region previously known as Ontario’s tobacco belt. It’s also the location of a growing battle over a proposed biogas facility planned by Erie Biogas Regeneration.
The proposed site of the biogas facility is the location of a former Bick’s pickle plant northeast of the town Delhi. The controversy over this particular proposed facility is most likely the planned feedstock — green bin waste from the City of Toronto — and its proximity to neighbours (approximately 500 metres).
Townsfolk have started an opposition campaign to the proposal. One of the nearest neighbours to the proposed facility started a petition citing concerns about odours, water contamination, emergency response, and property values. There are currently over 200 signatures on the petition.
Opposition to the proposed Erie Biogas Regeneration facility includes the Norfolk County Council that passed a resolution stating it is not a willing host to the biogas facility.
Patrick Forbes, Manager of Erie Biogas Regeneration, confirmed that the project is going ahead despite local opposition. He believes that once local politicians and neighbours become educated about biogas and their concerns about nuisance issues are addressed, opposition will turn to support.
“We are willing to take local politicians and neighbours on a tour of successful biogas facilities to help with the education process,” says Forbes.
In order for the Erie Biogas Regeneration project to move ahead, it will need to apply and receive a FIT contract from the OPA. However, the OPA is currently in the process of making changes to the FIT Program which includes removing large projects (such as the Erie Biogas project) and developing a new competitive procurement system.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org