From the Editor: December 2010

November 23, 2010
Written by
The Ontario government has a problem – how to replace the electricity currently generated by coal-fired generating units once coal is phased out as a fuel source in 2014.

The greenhouse sector can be part of the solution, courtesy of cogeneration investment.

It’s great that the province wants to phase out coal. Many agencies agree that coal plants cause too much pollution, which contributes to a number of health issues. Ontario currently has five generating stations with coal-fired units. The largest of these – Nanticoke, located just 30 minutes from our offices – is the largest facility of its kind in North America.

The province hopes to replace coal with alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and other cleaner sources. Natural gas is also a replacement option at the coal plants.

We’re not knocking wind or solar, because they’re especially sustainable and clean as a whistle. Except for capital costs and routine maintenance, the power is free. As fossil fuels increase in price over the next few decades, the sun and wind will remain free of charge. And many farmers are taking advantage of these technologies for farm revenues.

The province also has considerable nuclear and hydro-electric power, and the bulk of electricity is generated from these two sectors. In fact, nuclear power meets more than 50 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.
But what we haven’t seen in any of the provincial reports is much discussion of cogeneration potential. That needs to change.

You only have to look to the Netherlands to see what impact cogen can have on electricity generation and agriculture. Cogen represents 10 to 15 per cent of electricity generation in the Netherlands, with the added benefit that the heat and CO2 “waste” byproducts can be applied in their greenhouses. It’s making maximum use of the fuel source; nothing goes to waste. These systems are operating at greater than 90 per cent efficiency.

Cogen was first used in the Netherlands in 1987 to power grower lights. In 2001, the government helped spark the growth of the technology by liberalizing the electricity market; growers gradually became major suppliers to the grid.

We need that same enlightened approach by governments across Canada. We’re aware of only one such system in Ontario, that being at Great Northern Hydroponics in Leamington; there is potential for dozens more across the province and throughout the country.

The greenhouse sector will continually take on a much larger role in the food chain. It represents ultra-efficient food production, with high yields and premium quality with minimal environmental impact. Greenhouses can meet the growing “buy local” demand, and do so year-round under lighting. Energy will be the challenge, and cogen will be the answer.

We need to get politicians and government agencies onside. Pro-cogen arguments are compelling. Governments must improve access to the grid – currently a major obstacle in many regions – to encourage more cogen development.

It’s good for the grid, and it’s good for growers.

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