By Dale Woodard on February 26, 2021.
Biogas production and growing Alberta’s agriculture in the coming years was front and centre as the Southern Alberta Council of Public Affairs met Thursday.
Taking the virtual podium for the morning session was Chris Perry, the co-founder and president of CKP Farms Ltd. and Grow the Energy Circle Ltd. (GrowTEC), explaining the lengthy regulatory process to build a biogas facility.
As well, he discussed that while such projects are not particularly viable at the moment, biogas facilities can be an important piece of the puzzle to address climate change and increase the sustainability of farming.
A farm boy with a passion for renewable energy. Perry said he would like to participate in expanding Alberta’s agriculture industry to its potential in the next decade or two.
He manages a 4,000 irrigated acre farm together with brother Harold in southern Alberta, where they grow potatoes for Frito Lay and McCain Foods Canada and green peas for Bonduelle.
GrowTEC commissioned a 633 KW generating capacity anaerobic digester waste to energy facility in November 2014 and they produce triple their entire farms electricity use from organic waste.
Biogas production is essentially an industrial stomach which converts organic waste into usable fuel. Biogas is 60 per cent methane and is used to fuel powerful engines that drives generators producing 24/7 100 per cent per cent renewable electricity.
The electricity can be used by the producer or sold into the Alberta Electricity Grid through AESO.
Renewable Natural Gas is arguably the green gas of tomorrow and is the most efficient means of converting organics into renewable energy. Once biogas is upgraded to RNG, it is interchangeable with Natural Gas and can be injected into local gas grids and used for generating electricity or vehicle fueling.
As well, biogas plants can process a wide array of organic waste materials from the food industry and agricultural residues including deadstock and manure. In the food industry business sector, anaerobic digestion offers significant cost advantages over traditional disposal methods, both to waste management companies and producers alike.
Wrapping up his presentation, Perry spoke of the Alberta bio-gas opportunity.
“I’ve advocated for this heavily and I think we have a real potential to drive the biogas industry. I think it would be great for the province and for rural Alberta as well,” said Perry.
“There are over 1,250 farms that produce manure that could be utilized as feed stock in a system similar to ours. Based on our system in Lethbridge biogas we’ve done some work together.
A 10 per cent uptake of biogas opportunities per producer of the included farmers with easy access to manure based on the average on-farm scale facilities would be the equivalent of over 75 megawatts of renewable based load electricity.
“It would be a capital investment of over $600 million,” said Perry. “There would be over 400 full time jobs created in a renewable energy climate carbon producing piece. As one little plant, we are pretty small, but in the big picture we can distribute this across the province as a replicable piece and supporting an industry like this, there is a lot of benefit.
Perry noted an uptick in renewable natural gas across the world.
“So starting in Germany and Europe first of all, but in North America, California has driven that market and renewable natural gas is upgrading bio-gas, feeding it into the grid to basically green and clean the gas grid.”
That means there is finally a market pull on that front.
“We’ve just signed a 20-year, long-term contract with FortisBC, which is what we’ve been hoping for and asking for the last 15 years going after this project and a guaranteed price in return,” said Perry. “A shoutout to B.C., (it’s) a different regulatory system there where they’re still a regulated utility. So they’re sharing that out, but paying us for the environmental attributes for a little bit of a profit.”
That has garnered kudos from customers of CKP Farms Ltd. and GrowTEC, such as PepsiCo and McCain.
Perry accompanied PepsiCo to Paris for the Accord.
“I did go over and participated in some side conversations based on agriculture and what we can role we can play to be involved in carbon. It’s a real deal that is coming for agriculture and all of us going forward,” said Perry, who was joined by numerous other companies at the Accord in Paris, addressing how the ag-food chain needs to participate in climate action.
“So it’s coming to be where that’s a part of the conversation in marketing going forward. Even though they aren’t offering to pay us more for food right now, I feel it’s the price of admission.”
Perry noted a carbon tax coming on exports as a threat for Alberta and Canada.
“We are an exporting country for our agriculture goods, so when I see this kind of news it really rings true for me on policy-driven climate action,” he said. “Whether there’s any belief there or not, it’s the world stage on the economics that’s sort of bringing everything together and I think we need to be proactive on this stuff. So I hope we can continue the conversation in Alberta and actually build a customer and a compliance base in Alberta. Something similar to B.C. It’s a different market, but there is a potential to really build an industry. We have an incredible resource of feedstock, it can be integrated with the energy sector and capitalize on the experience and expertise that we already have in-house. So I’m looking forward to carrying on the conversation.”
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