An East Delta dairy farm wants to build a biogas plant to produce electricity.
Seabreeze Farm has applied for a non-farm use to add an anaerobic digestion (AD) system that would be used to process on-farm agricultural material and some off-farm non-agricultural feedstock to produce renewable energy, known as biomethane.
At a recent presentation to the civic agricultural advisory committee, Ethan Werner with CHFour Biogas Inc., an engineering and design firm specializing in biogas systems, explained how the AD system would work.
The system involves microbes in animal manure consuming the nutrients of other materials to grow and produce methane gas. The gas is then captured and either upgraded to natural gas quality or converted to electricity by a combustion engine. AD operations can obtain revenue from the sale of either natural gas or electricity to utility companies.
Werner said Jerry Keulen, owner of the 112th Street dairy farm, visited Europe to research biogas facilities to determine if this was an option for him.
Werner explained that once manure has gone through the AD system, pathogens are removed and the material has a reduced odour similar to compost and wet soil. Once purified, the gas is more than 97 per cent methane.
His company's website states: "Farm-based anaerobic digester systems provide a significant 'competitive advantage' compared to other farms."
The website also states, "The odour levels associated with a biogas systems are negligible. Only a very small release of odour occurs when the receiving tank is opened momentarily to accept off-farm material."
The committee endorsed the proposal, but was told the Agricultural Land Commission does not have a policy specific to AD systems, so the application will be referred to as a nonfarm use.
A rezoning application is currently also required, but it won't be brought to a Delta public hearing until after the ALC considers the proposal. The application will first go to council next month.
B.C. has just two on-farm AD systems, both located in the lower Fraser Valley.
The Delta application comes as the Ministry of Agriculture looks at the future of farms building their own AD systems.
The ministry, which is gathering feedback, released a discussion paper late last year on how a bylaw standard could guide local governments.
The report notes the demand for on-farm anaerobic digesters is expected to increase in the next five years, fueled by evolving climate change policies, consumer demand for renewable energy and the appetite of farmers to integrate new technologies into their businesses.
The major areas of concern regarding on-farm AD systems include the volume of "non-agricultural" and "off-farm" feedstock that would be allowed in digesters. Examples of such feedstock are manure from other farms and waste from feeding or processing agricultural products.
The report found the risks of bringing such feedstock onto agricultural land are not well known. The social risks could include the perception that agricultural land is a dumping ground for municipal wastes, that feedstock and digestate could smell if they are not treated and stored appropriately, and traffic to and from farms could increase.
Some of the environmental concerns include increased nutrient loading in the lower Fraser Valley and contamination from foreign objects or impurities.
As far as approvals, the report suggests, "In an attempt to reduce the regulatory burden for on-farm AD and allow farmers to benefit from the opportunities that anaerobic digestion provides, the ALC is considering a policy that outlines a set of criteria that, if met, would allow an anaerobic digestion project to be a permitted in the ALR without application."