The provincial government is accepting comments on proposed changes to reduce regulatory burden for mixed on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities
By Jackie Clark
OMAFRA has proposed changes to the Nutrient Management Act to lessen the regulatory burden for on-farm anaerobic digesters. Currently, if a facility mixes on- and off-farm materials to produce biogas, that facility is identified as a regulated mixed anaerobic digestion facility (RMADF).
“These requirements were designed for RMADFs within the context of generating electricity and do not easily accommodate systems developing the capacity to produce renewable natural gas,” the proposal said. The document was posted online Jan. 28 and is open for comments until March 13.
“The changes that the ministry is proposing offer additional opportunities for the sector to grow,” Jennifer Green, executive director of the Canadian Biogas Association, told Farms.com. “Overall the Canadian Biogas Association is supportive of the opportunity and the changes.”
Gord Green is on the board of the Canadian Biogas Association and owns Greenholm Power Ltd., an anaerobic digestion facility on his dairy farm near Embro, Ont.
“We’re pretty heavily regulated under the Nutrient Management Act for certain things,” he told Farms.com. For mixed anaerobic digestion, at least 50 per cent of materials must be sourced on farm, and of that, 50 per cent must be manure, he explained.
Allowing for more off-farm organics and a greater percentage of non-manure in on-farm organics would allow farmers to expand their biogas-generation capacity.
Reducing the required manure percentage “would broaden up the number of people who could (have a digester on farm) that currently can’t because of livestock numbers,” he said.
There are also environmental benefits to expanding biogas production.
“There are not a lot of places for people to get rid of organic waste other than landfills,” Gord Green said. Anaerobic digesters “provide a circular organic economy. We’re cycling nutrients back onto the land and we’re making (energy) from the biogas.”
Jennifer Green agreed that expanding biogas production in the province is a positive goal.
“The benefits of biogas in the context of a farm facility are immense,” she said. On-farm anaerobic digesters allow for a circular economy of nutrient recovery, diversification of the farm business, and reduction of the burning of fossil fuels, she explained.
Many producers are “conscious of their global impact on climate and sustainability,” she said. “There’s an increasing interest with the next generation to see some solutions coming forward, and biogas offers that in spades.”
However, these regulatory changes are just one piece of the province’s biogas puzzle.
“It is a step in the right direction, absolutely,” said Jennifer Green. “There are other policy elements that are under the purview of other ministries within the provincial government.”
That includes looking to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to improve access to feedstock from food and organic waste policies, as well as the Ministry of Energy to improve market structures for biogas, she explained.
Most of the on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities are operating under the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) Program, which was developed to promote the use of renewable energy sources.
“When we got into (biogas) there were FIT contracts available to give us a guaranteed income for a certain amount of output. Doug Ford cancelled the Green Energy Act … so there was really no way for anybody to get into biogas other than producing for themselves or net metering,” Gord Green explained.
Net metering involves selling excess energy to the power grid at standard output price. Typically, this is not economically viable, Gord Green explained.
“Given that there isn’t currently a market in Ontario for renewable natural gas, that is something that is missing in terms of being able to excite the market to look more seriously at these kinds of facilities,” Jennifer Green said.
There needs to be some additional market structure or economic incentive for new adopters to add biogas to their farms’ operations.
“I’m assuming that’s why (the government is) proposing letting a lot more off-farm material come on to farms, to make it economically viable,” said Gord Green.
“Renewable natural gas has real potential,” he added. Hooking up on-farm anaerobic digesters to natural gas networks would require infrastructure to support pipelines, pressurization, and cleaning of the gas. Natural gas must be high-percentage methane, and free of certain gases like sulphur dioxide.
“That technology is available, but expensive,” he said. “There isn’t a policy in place for hooking up farm-based digesters to the natural gas grid.”
Society has expressed interest in more environmentally friendly energy “but when it comes to reaching into their pockets to pay the higher rate on gas or build the infrastructure,” it has not happened yet, said Gord Green.
fermate\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo