Chase Edgelow is on a mission to acquire vast quantities of garbage.
His company, Vancouver-based EverGen Infrastructure Corp., was founded just two years ago and has already snapped up two organic waste processing facilities in British Columbia, The Canadian Press reports. It also has plans to pursue similar acquisitions in Alberta and Quebec at some point in the future.
It’s a case of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” because when Edgelow sees mountains of food scraps and agricultural waste, he doesn’t see garbage. He sees opportunity.
“We need to deal with our waste, as humans,” he said. “We need waste infrastructure. But we also want to decrease carbon emissions. So why would we let the energy from that waste infrastructure go straight into the atmosphere and go to waste?”
Edgelow’s company is a renewable energy company that converts organic waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), a non-fossil form of natural gas that has been the subject of a flurry of announcements by Canadian utility companies in recent months. Enbridge Inc., ATCO Energy Solutions, and FortisBC are all actively pursuing opportunities in the space.
According to the World Biogas Association, organic waste from food production, food waste, farming, landfill, and wastewater treatment are responsible for about 25% of human-caused global emissions of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
As concerns about climate change intensify, there is a growing push globally to use waste to its full potential. RNG proponents believe they can harness the methane from landfill and other forms of waste to create an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional natural gas, for use in home heating, cooking, and even fuelling vehicles.
It’s already being done, CP writes. EverGen owns Fraser Valley Biogas, western Canada’s first RNG facility, which has been in production since 2011. The plant combines anaerobic digesting and biogas upgrading technologies to generate RNG from the manure produced by local dairy farms.
The RNG produced there is contracted to FortisBC, which claims to be the first utility in North America with a renewable natural gas program. In addition to EverGen and Fraser Valley Biogas, FortisBC currently receives RNG from 11 other suppliers, giving the utility access to enough to power about 200,000 homes.
Joe Mazza, FortisBC’s vice-president of energy supply and resource development, said the company likes RNG because “it’s a cost-effective solution for decarbonization.” While RNG is more expensive than traditional natural gas, it comes with the advantage of being a “drop-in fuel,” with no need for costly changes to transmission infrastructure or appliances.
“We’ve got 50,000 kilometres of gas pipeline we’ve built up over the decades,” Mazza said. “So from an affordability perspective, all we’re doing is bringing that renewable gas into existing infrastructure rather than having to build out all new infrastructure that customers would have to pay for.”
Right now, FortisBC has an optional program that allows its customers to reduce their own carbon footprint by paying a premium to designate a percentage of their natural gas use as RNG. An average household that elects to use 10% RNG, for example, will pay an extra $5.25 per month on its utility bill.
FortisBC, which wants RNG to provide 15% of its total supply by 2030, has also submitted a proposal for regulatory approval that will see all of the company’s new residential connections receive 100% renewable gas. As the company brings on more RNG supply through future projects and contracts, that gas will be allocated to new homes, with the increased cost spread across the utility’s entire rate base.
While cost has always been a significant impediment to widespread RNG adoption, advocates say public policy changes are fuelling increased demand. British Columbia’s CleanBC objectives commit to 15% renewable gas content in the provincial system by 2030, for example, and the government of Quebec has set minimum RNG targets for gas providers.
“The market for clean fuels is pretty dynamic and evolving rapidly,” said Justin Heskes, director of business development and commercial for ATCO Energy Solutions. The Calgary-based company is currently building its first RNG facility near Vegreville, Alberta, aiming to use a combination of local feedlot manure and municipal green bin waste as feedstocks. It has already contracted the RNG to B.C.-based Pacific Northern Gas.
“I think what is really driving the Canadian market is that utilities in a number of jurisdictions are looking at how they can add cleaner fuels to their grid. And they’re willing to purchase those fuels at a price that makes the production viable,” Heskes said.
ATCO has plans to build out a portfolio of RNG production through a number of facilities that will be announced over the next year or two, Heskes said, adding the company believes RNG will play an important role in the energy transition and Canada’s pursuit of its climate goals.
“The uniqueness of RNG is that it’s possible now,” Heskes said. “You look at some of the other clean fuels that are being pursued, like larger-scale hydrogen… and there’s a timeline and a scale that pushes those out farther. RNG is possible now. That’s why we really like it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published February 20, 2022.