FIT to be Tied

Canada is the world’s 5th largest energy producer: we’re #2 in oil production, #3 in gas and the 2nd largest uranium producer. We developed the first commercial hydro plant in 1896, the Adam Beck plant close to the present Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Given our country’s expertise and its large base of natural resources, there should be many exciting and challenging opportunities for engineers developing power generation and distribution technologies, particularly as the mix changes from fossil fuel to more sustainable systems.

And opportunities are coming.  The Feed in Tariff (FIT) program, spawned by the Green Energy Act, grants the generator a 20-year contract at guaranteed prices for the full output aspect of the plant. According to the OPA FIT and MicroFIT Report, August 2011, the program has generated over 2200 FIT contracts. It has been hugely popular with farmers and owners of buildings or large tracts of non-productive arable land.  However, if an organization is going to contract with a generator for 20 years at fixed prices, then that organization is going to take a long hard due diligence look at every project to ensure all criteria are met and will to continue to be met for the duration of the contract.  As a result, only 75 FIT projects have been approved and connected to date.

Angus Power has bid successfully on 6 solar roof projects and one biogas project. All are in the queue to be evaluated for a FIT offer – some have been waiting for over 10 months. Following receipt of a FIT contract, we then file a CIA (Connection Impact Assessment) application for the generator. This goes through various short circuit and thermal capacity calculations before the OPA issues an NTP (Notice to Proceed). Larger plants require an REA (Renewable Energy Application) to comply with noise, odour, emissions and socio cultural regulations. This alphabet soup of processes takes many months to complete.

All of these steps are normal for 500 MW nuclear and combined cycle plants; but, as you can imagine, for a 200 kW project the process is extremely burdensome and ultimately results in many projects dying on the vine.

So, if projects are slow to get FIT approved, why not challenge convention by championing off-grid power?  Angus Power is pursuing growth by looking to the off-grid market. With no disrespect to sparkies, power generation is not just about kilowatts.  After all, kilowatts produced via an engine-power-synchronised generator result in only about 30% of the fuel energy getting to the electrical terminal.  However, by producing biomethane in an Angus power digester plant and using the gas to fire a boiler and chiller, the farmer can, using a current generation boiler, access over 90% of the fuel’s available energy while reducing the amount of electrical grid off-take.  Topping off the benefits, the farmer also gets a solution to a big steaming pile of concern, i.e. turning malodorous manure into sweet smelling fertilizer ready to be applied to the fields.

For farms or communities that generate more biogas than they can use, a new FIT-type program is being considered for the Union Gas and Enbridge gas distribution system. The pipeline company would pay a premium for biomethane in return for a certain level of purity. It remains to be seen if the gas scrubbing and dewatering costs will be burdensome for small projects.

In June I attended the annual meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Canada in Winnipeg, where there was a lot of interest in the small scale digester plant we’re promoting.  This month, we’re off to the Outdoor Farm Show in Ontario, where we hope for the same enthusiastic response.  More on this later.

I was recently interviewed for a radio talk show about our Zoo biogas project.  The host, after hearing all the benefits flowing to small operators and to the environment courtesy of our biogas technology, asked “why wouldn’t every farm in Canada have one of these gas producers?”

Indeed.  There are 16,000 dairy farms in Canada, so I say… why not?!

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