BY MAIJA HOGGETT, STAFF May 19, 2009 16:05
A provincial shift to use more green energy could help make farmers more money, according to Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture president Dave Riddell.
The proposed Green Energy Act promotes moving away from the use of coal-fuelled energy plants and using biomass, biogas, solar and wind energy instead – which are clean, renewable sources of energy. The first two being fuels that farmers across the province are already creating, said Riddell.
Instead of the coal-fuelled plants, Riddell said the Ontario government is considering running the energy plants on pellet fuel, similar to how pellet stoves work. The pellets would be made from switch grass, corn stover, spoiled grains or straw.
“When we harvest our crops here we basically shred that back out onto the ground and leave it to decompose on top of the ground,” said Riddell.
The pellet-fuelled energy plants would not only be green, Riddell said it would give farmers an alternative revenue source.
“When we combine corn, for instance, all you’re really taking is the grain corn off the cob and what they would want is the rest of the stock to be made into these pellets to feed for electric generation,” said Riddell.
It’s too early to know how much money the pellet production could mean for farmers. Riddell said by the numbers he’s seen, farmers could expect about $50 for each bale of hay sold for biomass.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has said that starting in 2012 there will be a market for two million tonnes of biomass a year, with the demand increasing as the province reduces its dependence on coal.
The OFA is also gauging interest from farmers to create a biomass business, which would create a secure place for Ontario farmers to sell their biomass to.
Wind and solar energy could also be a positive shift for farmers, but Riddell said that isn’t happening without controversy.
For the wind and solar projects, farmers could lease their land, or a portion of their property, to allow for the required infrastructure.
“The landowners who have been contacted think it’s great and the people who haven’t been (contacted) and have to have houses and homes beside (the windfarm), they are not as enthused about the idea,” said Riddell. “There’s a lot of controversy about it coming out now.”
He said a meeting in the northern part of Simcoe County spurred concerns about a solar farm going up on agricultural land.
“On one hand the government is really strict on what we can use the land for, but on the other hand they can say it’s OK now to take a farm and make it into a solar farm,” said Riddell.
To allow solar and wind farm projects to move ahead quickly, the Green Energy act amends the Planning Act, the Building Code, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Places to Grow Act.
With the changes, municipalities risk losing control of where green energy projects are built.
Simcoe County has expressed concerns about the speed the act is moving ahead and said that local tiers of government need to keep control of where the solar and wind energy projects are built.
Because the county is opposing the Green Energy Act, some of its municipalities, including New Tecumseth, are not taking their own stand against the act and are supporting the county’s position.
Adjala-Tosorontio Mayor Tom Walsh said green energy is necessary, but the Green Energy Act doesn’t give municipalities a say in the projects.
“We have no say in that at all. They can come in and do what they like by removing the environmental assessments,” said Walsh. “You normally have rules and setbacks, from what I can see about it, it’s not going to exist with the Green Energy Act.”
Adjala-Tosorontio has also already had its own controversy over a wind turbine.
The TSC Store on Highway 89 west of Alliston has a 30-metre high wind turbine and a solar panel as part of a TSC initiative to promote alternative, renewable energy sources. They are also being used to help supply the store with power.
When TSC applied to Adjala-Tosorontio for the turbine, neighbours opposed the project on the grounds that the turbine would reduce their property value and obstruct their view.
In an attempt to remove not-in-my-back-yard or NIMBY protests, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has said that unless there are safety or environmental concerns, objections to the wind turbines or solar farms won’t stand.
“I laughed when Mr. McGuinty said that a couple of months ago because first of all it wouldn’t be a green energy project if it wasn’t green so they’ll all pass that way, on paper anyway,” said Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson. “Secondly, of course things are going to be safe. The Ministry of Labour would make sure of that in this day and age. They’re kind of no-brainer criteria that really have nothing to do with people who may be objecting to windmills in their backyard, and for good reason.”
On top of the health complaints of sleep loss and ringing in their ears that the people in Shelburne claim have been caused by the Melancthon Township windfarms, Wilson said there isn’t enough focus on what the true cost of the green energy will be.
The provincial Liberal government predicts energy costs to increase one per cent a year for the first three years of the act. A Progressive Conservative study disagrees and said energy bills will be going up $280 to $780 a year from 2010 to 2025.
It’s not that Wilson is against green energy, he said it’s just the way the government is going about this bill.
What would it take for Wilson to support a Green Energy Act?
“Build a new nuclear power plant, it’s the most green energy power ever produced in the face of humanity,” said Wilson.
No matter how the government chooses to move forward, Riddell hopes the farmers are consulted because green power starts with them.
“They have to get agricultural sector more involved. We can be a great benefit to them, they are including us but we should be included to a bigger degree than we are,” said Riddell.