Burning for Credits

March 20, 2012
Written by Heather Hager
The conversion to biomass technologies can generate multiple payoffs

The conversion to biomass technologies can generate multiple payoffs.  Take SunSelect Produce Inc. of Aldergrove, BC, for example.  It has reduced its fuel costs, obtained carbon credits, and generated an environmentally friendly company image by converting its greenhouses from natural gas to biomass heating and installing energy-saving heat curtains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The biomass boilers are fuelled by wood waste obtained from a local sawmill.  The transition from business as usual to biomass was made with the help of Offsetters of Vancouver, BC, an offset project developer.

Companies that switch to biomass heating can use carbon credits to finance some of the conversion costs, and can boast about it on their packaging – Locally grown, with no carbon footprint!
Offsetters’ aim is not just to broker carbon offsets to offset direct greenhouse gas emissions, but also to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that would not have otherwise occurred.  “What we do is identify projects that aren’t happening for some reason,” explains Morgan McDonald, director of sourcing for Offsetters.  “Either there’s a technical barrier whereby the company has heard of the technology but they’re not quite convinced about it, or they’ve heard about it but think it’s going to be too expensive, or in fact they’ve done the number crunching and it is too expensive.  If they could trim the cost a little bit, then they’re willing to go for it.  That’s where we step in and provide that extra bit of funding that makes it affordable to them.”

Offsetters is involved in generating offsets from both domestic and international projects.  It supports projects like that of SunSelect by providing financial and technical analyses, ongoing biomass supply information, and cash contributions, and arranging for third-party verification.  “In the case of SunSelect, we identified a project that had some cost involved: the installation of a biomass boiler and the ongoing purchase of biomass in the form of wood chips or shavings.  That was different from business as usual, which for them was using natural gas to heat the greenhouse,” says McDonald.  Based on actual heating bills and standard energy models, a third-party auditor verified SunSelect’s emissions reductions as approximately 7500 tonnes/year relative to the conventional natural gas baseline.

In return for its services and contributions, Offsetters gets to buy the rights to the carbon reductions for a negotiated number of years.  It then places the offsets for sale through its website or in an international carbon credit registry called the TZ1 registry.  Companies and individuals who want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions footprint to become “carbon neutral” can purchase the offsets, which are then considered retired and cannot be re-sold.  Each credit or offset represents the removal of one tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Offsetters’ credits currently retail at $20–$30.

Expanding biomass projects
“We’re now doing similar work with a half-dozen other greenhouses,” says McDonald.  “Some are switching to biomass, some are installing heat curtains, and some are installing innovative heating technologies that have never been used before, all in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from what they have been.”

 “Working with biomass has been successful for us in the past, and we’re doing more in that area,” says McDonald.  And the opportunities are not just restricted to greenhouses.  “It could be any institutional building, for example, that is using oil or natural gas or some other fuel for heating and wants to switch to a biomass boiler, but hasn’t done so in the past because there are technical or cost barriers.  If our involvement can help switch them over, then that can generate credits that we use for offsets.”  

Sawmills, too, might use Offsetters’ services to develop and implement a biomass energy project.  “We are working with a sawmill project partner right now in Quebec to bring in some technology so that they can stop burning bunker oil for their drying kiln and start using biomass instead with some very modern and efficient equipment,” says McDonald.  “It has a large up-front cost and a lot of unknowns associated with it, which is the reason that it hasn’t happened until now.  We are able to help trim those costs and make it more affordable.”  

Usually Offsetters seeks out projects and is involved in their development from the outset.  In some cases, however, a company may initiate a project such as installing a biomass boiler with the intention of using future carbon credits from the greenhouse gas emissions reductions to help pay for the project.  Offsetters might then be involved in brokering subsequent requirements such as obtaining third-party verification and registering the offsets.  “That would be a special case where we could come in after the fact because they already knew they were going to sell to someone.”  Companies that are considering a switch to biomass technologies might consider this type of service in their cost-benefit analysis.

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