The Ontario government has set the ambitious goal of phasing out coal in its hydro generating plants by 2014. It’s all part of the much ballyhooed Green Energy Act.
That’s good news for environmentalists who have long criticized the effects of the pollution associated with such power generation.
And it’s also good for greenhouse growers, who could apply cogeneration technologies – just as has been done in Europe for many years, particularly in the Netherlands – to supply the grid in place of coal-fired generating systems.
And it’s even better news for those considering cogeneration fuelled by renewable fuels, as the Green Energy Act is designed to “establish Ontario as a leader in North America in building renewable energy, encouraging energy conservation and creating green jobs.” The Act will expand Ontario’s use of clean and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, biomass and biogas.
“At the heart of the Green Energy Act is North America’s most comprehensive feed-in tariff (FIT), which will spark the development of renewable energy projects,” says the province, in a website announcement.
Even smaller growers can participate. The microFIT component of the plan covers projects of 10 kilowatts or less. The FIT program is for renewable projects of 10 kW or larger. Participants are paid a fixed price for the electricity they generate. FIT and microFIT contracts are for 20 years, with the exception of waterpower, which has a 40-year FIT contract. The current prices include: Solar PV – 80.2¢/kWh; windpower – 13.5¢/kWh; waterpower – 13.1¢/kW; biomass – 13.8¢/kWh; biogas – 16.0¢/kWh; and landfill gas – 11.1¢/kWh.
Compare those prices with the 4.5 cents that the province’s own Ontario Power Generation receives for most of the electricity it supplies.
Greenhouses are an excellent partner for the province in supplying a stable supply of electricity. Cogen, fired either with fossil fuels or with renewable fuels, is a win-win situation. Growers will utilize the heat to help them grow food and ornamental crops, maximizing the energy in the fuel. (Once technologies are developed to capture the CO2 off the stacks of renewable fuel boilers, it will become a virtually closed loop system.) The renewable fuels segment is a better fit with the Green Energy Act goals, but natural gas is also far cleaner than other fossil fuels, so it too should be viewed positively in efforts to wean the province off coal in just five years.
Interest in renewable fuels by growers has cooled the past few years, thanks to relatively stable natural gas and oil prices. There haven’t been the constant price spikes seen at the start of this decade.
But fossil fuel cost increases are inevitable within the next few years. This is an issue of industry sustainability. As the original “green” industry, greater usage of renewable fuels is only natural, and will be viewed quite positively by vendors and consumers. And that’s why biomass or biogas fuel systems should be considered, especially in light of incentive programs such as those offered in Ontario. ■