Bioenergy has been touted in Canada as a great untapped resource. Proponents of bioenergy see a future where waste from agriculture and forestry is used to create renewable energy.
Bioenergy should not be confused with waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration. The feedstock for a bioenergy facility is organic matter from plants and animals (i.e., animal wastes or trees) and not the municipal solid waste typically used in a WTE facility. Bioenergy is considered renewable and is, for the most part, supported by environmental activists and neighbours.
The Toronto Zoo plant
The construction and operation of an anaerobic digester to manage animal waste at the Toronto Zoo was the idea of the zoo itself. The concept of creating a cooperative to plan, finance, build, and operate the facility was the brainchild of Daniel Bida — the founder and driving force behind the ZooShare Biogas Cooperative.
Bida is a young and energetic entrepreneur who holds a Bachelor of Commerce from McMaster University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst. Besides his role as Executive Director of ZooShare, Bida is the president of ReGenerate Biogas Inc., a company that assists in the development of bioenergy facilities.
Having served on the Board of Directors since 2011, I can attest to the enthusiasm people have for the ZooShare project. There’s overwhelmingly positive response when people hear of ZooShare’s plan for an anaerobic digester that will take animal manure from the zoo, mix it with food waste from a local grocery chain, and convert it into methane (that will be burned for heating and electricity generation) and fertilizer.
The project has captured several awards and honours, including the Green Innovation Award from the Toronto Community Foundation, first place in the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge, and an award in Excellence in Corporate Responsibility from Greenliving Enterprise.
FIT and funding
The plans for Canada’s first cooperatively-owned biogas plant got a major boost recently when ZooShare received news from the Ontario Power Authority that its Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) application was approved.
Renewable energy projects in Ontario rely on the FIT program to ensure the project is financially stable. A FIT contract for a biogas facility means the OPA will guarantee the purchase of the electricity produced by the facility at a price of $0.16 per kilowatt-hour (plus another one cent per Kwh because it’s a community power project) for a 20 year period. With a FIT contract in hand, a biogas company can then secure financing for construction.
In the case of ZooShare, the funding to construct the anaerobic digestion facility will be in the form of community bonds sold to members of the cooperative. (There are currently over 120 members.) Interest in the bonds should be high as they’ll pay an annual return of seven per cent over seven years.
Any individual can join the cooperative simply be filling out an application fee and paying $100. Members are then eligible to buy community bonds.
With the FIT contract in hand, an agreement in place with the Toronto Zoo, and a contract for feedstock supply from a local grocery chain secured, the cooperative is just getting underway with the sale of its community bonds.
If everything goes as planned, construction will begin in the spring of 2014 and the operation will start producing 500 kW of electricity (enough to service 250 homes) by the end of that year.
Once operational, the biogas facility itself will become part of the zoo’s attractions. Families and school groups will see first-hand how poop from the zoo’s animals is anaerobically digested and converted into fertilizer and methane.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com