Minister plugs green power

The London Free Press; HANK DANISZEWSK - April 4, 2009

Ontario Energy minister George Smitherman said roadblocks stalling biogas plants and other green energy projects are coming down.

Smitherman yesterday toured a new biogas plant at the Stanton Bros. dairy farm north of London that has started pumping power into the provincial grid.

Smitherman said Ontario's new Green Energy Act will help spur a major overhaul of the power system as small biogas, wind power and solar projects get underway.

"We envision hundreds of thousands of points of generation. That will take investment that will generate jobs," he said.

The Stanton plant is capable of producing 1.3 megawatts of power from methane generated by cattle manure and food waste -- more than enough to supply the nearby community of Ilderton.

But startup of the $4.5-million plant has been slow as the Stantons faced a number of bureaucratic, technical and financial hurdles.

Under Ontario's original alternative energy plan, small biogas plants and wind farms received 11 cents a kilowatt hour for power pumped into the grid and were expected to pay the full cost of connecting to the grid.

The Ontario Power Authority is now considering a new rate structure that would give small biogas plants 14.7 cents a kilowatt hour with a 35% bonus for power produced during peak demand periods.

And power generators would not have to pay the full cost of their grid connection.

Garry Fortune, a consultant working with the Stantons, said the new rate structure still might not be enough to make the plant viable. But he said there are other potential revenue sources, such as pumping surplus heat from the plant to community buildings.

"We could be heating up a school that's less than a kilometre away," said Fortune.

Smitherman said Ontario's power grid was a one-way system designed to receive power from a small number of large hydro, coal-fired and nuclear plants and deliver it to millions of users.

He said it would take a major investment and a change in attitude to create a system that can receive power from sources a small as rooftop solar panel.

"It's transformative. It shakes up some of the engineers that have always worked in doing things the other way," the minister said.

The Stanton farm can handle 2,000 head of dairy cattle and the manure they produce is supplemented with waste from food-processing plants in the area.

The biogas plant is largest project of its kind in the province and co-owner Laurie Stanton said he hopes it can be a model for other farms once the financial and technical issues are resolved.

"We have tried to fight all those fights so this can be copied all over the province," said Stanton.

"We think it will have a huge impact on agriculture."

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