by SUSAN MANN
The provincial Environment Ministry is studying a new environmental approval process for small-scale renewable energy projects that’s designed to be clearer and more streamlined.
Biogas Association members concur the direction being taken is positive, says executive director Jennifer Green. But the details are the most important element of this development “because we’re trying to achieve something that is going to have a reasonable and practical application in terms of allowing the development of these projects” and getting environmental approvals.
Formerly called the Agrienergy Producers’ Association, the Biogas Association has 80 members and there are 12 to 15 on-farm anaerobic digester projects in Ontario currently producing electricity for the grid, Green says.
The new process includes a proposal to add on-farm anaerobic digestion and small-scale ground mounted solar to the ministry’s Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR). The registry is a public, web-based system where people engaged in selected activities must register the activity and meet eligibility and operating requirements set out in regulations rather than seeking an approval through the normal application submission and review process. Sectors such as automotive refinishing, comfort heating systems, and stand-by power systems, already use the registry.
Environment Ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan says the changes being considered are separate from the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) and MicroFIT programs but are intended to align with the FIT program.
“To encourage localized generation from smaller, cleaner sources of electricity and community based renewable energy facilities, the ministry is proposing to allow specific small scale renewable energy projects to register on the EASR,” it says on the Environmental Registry posting.
If the proposal to include anaerobic digestion and small-scale ground mounted solar is implemented, the ministry officials would build awareness and understanding among affected parties to ensure that projects that must register under EASR do so, Jordan says.
She says EASR-eligible projects must register and the ministry has the same tools for enforcing compliance as it does for all other existing approvals, including the powers of inspection, issuance of Orders and, where necessary, laying charges.
A biogas association summary on its website notes the details related to specific eligibility and operational requirements for EASR approval will be developed and posted under a separate Environmental Registry after the concept is accepted.
The association will be working with the environment and agriculture ministries to establish reasonable requirements for the EASR for on-farm anaerobic digestion, the summary says.
Green says the proposed EASR approval is consistent with the current Nutrient Management Act except for the off-farm material threshold. Currently 25 per cent of off-farm materials can be brought to a farm for on-farm digestion under nutrient management approval. But the new proposal would increase that to up to 50 per cent of off-farm material with an annual volume of up to 10,000 cubic metres or a daily volume of up to 200 cubic metres.
Currently farmers wanting to use more than 25 per cent off-farm materials for their digesters need to get a renewable energy approval, Green says. The approval process is very “onerous, quite costly and complex with regards to these smaller on-farm systems.”
Lindsay Davidson, environment ministry spokesman, says by email the ministry is proposing several regulatory amendments to improve the renewable energy approval process in response to the Energy Ministry’s review of the FIT program.
The proposed changes would better align requirements with the project’s environmental impact, increase clarity and improve application turnaround times by streamlining the regulatory process.
“Our priority is ensuring that renewable energy is developed in a way that protects human health and the environment,” Davidson says. “Our stringent approval process will ensure that protection.”
Green says the ministry’s proposed direction maintains “a lot of the requirements of the existing Nutrient Management Act and those are very familiar and very reasonable, more or less, within the sector.”
Davidson says the ministry has posted two proposals on the Environmental Registry for public comment. One is renewable energy approval regulation amendments and the other is adding online registration for smaller scale, less complex renewable energy projects.
The ministry will thoroughly review all comments before making any final decisions, Davidson says. BF