Manitoba farmers hot about government’s coal heating ban

ARBORG, Man. — After listening to presenters tout the promise and potential of biomass for two hours, Joe Wipf stood up to offer a counterpoint.


Wipf of the Broad Valley Hutterite colony northwest of Arborg had a rhetorical question for the audience at a biomass workshop in Arborg March 5. 


If China and other countries produce the bulk of greenhouse gases in the world, what is the point of banning coal and switching to biomass in Manitoba?


The provincial government will prohibit the burning of coal to generate heat June 30, 2017, as part of an initiative to cut greenhouse gases and boost Manitoba’s biomass economy. Coal users have until June 30 of this year to submit a conversion plan to the government.


Wipf said the ban is nonsense because Manitoba’s emissions are inconsequential.


The province said last year in a news release that the ban would cut Manitoba’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes a year. 


In comparison, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says China generated 8.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2011, or 25 percent of global emissions.


“(So) to get ourselves a name in the world …. ‘hey, Manitoba is a good guy. (We’re) the least polluters,’ ” Wipf said. 


“(It’s) not going to make an impact and who is it hurting in the end?”


A government representative at the meeting agreed China’s emissions dwarf the greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal in Manitoba. Still, Manitoba imports coal from Sask-atchewan and Alberta and the province has an abundant supply of straw, oat hulls, forestry residues and other biomass. She said it makes economic sense to use a locally available resource. 


Representatives of several Manitoba Hutterite colonies attended the Arborg workshop, which focused on biomass and alternatives to coal heating systems.


Wipf said 70 of the province’s 110 Hutterite colonies burn coal. 


Wipf and other Broad Valley members spent more than a $1 million several years ago to install a new coal boiler, which heats chicken barns, hog barns and manufacturing shops on the colony.


Wipf said the system is functioning efficiently, so why should his colony waste time and money converting to a biomass system. 


Eugene Gala, an engineer with Biovalco, which designs and installs biomass-heating systems, said the coal ban will benefit the province’s economy.


Gala views the ban as an investment rather than an unnecessary regulation.


“When we generate (energy) from biomass, we generate (dollars) within the province,” he said. 


“Most of the money to pay for that biomass will go back to the local communities.”


The province has promised to cover 50 percent of the capital cost to convert to biomass heating systems, but the subsidy maxes out at $50,000.


Gala said that is too low.


“It should be straightforward, a minimum of 30 percent,” he said. 


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