Alta. producers get help with green investment

CORRECTION – The original version of this story stated the funding cap for the On-Farm Energy Management Program had increased to $75,000. The funding cap for the On-Farm Energy Management Program has increased to $750,000 from $50,000.

The Alberta government is investing $10 million to expand programs that could help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money on their energy bills.

The Alberta carbon tax is scheduled to take effect in January and has generated concern in the farming industry about the sector’s ability to reduce its carbon footprint and cover the costs of doing so.

Though marked gasoline and diesel used by farmers are exempt from the levy, there is concern that the costs of inputs will rise without farmers’ ability to pass them on.

Channelled through Emissions Reduction Alberta, the money announced Oct. 24 supports expansion of four existing programs that can cover a percentage of capital purchases and projects that save energy:

  • the On-Farm Energy Management Program
  • the On-Farm Solar PV Program
  • the Irrigation Efficiency Program
  • the Accelerating Agricultural Innovation Program

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said the money can be leveraged with environmental programs available through Growing Forward 2 to make $16 million available to implement changes.

“I see this as being proactive before the carbon levy kicks in in January, and it gives farmers time to start thinking about projects,” he said.

The government is offering to cover up to 70 percent on capital purchases through the On-Farm Energy Management Program and raised the funding cap to $750,000 from the previous level of $50,000.

This program assists with the purchase of equipment that improves energy efficiency or monitors energy consumption, such as as lighting, pumps, meters, boilers, heaters and low-energy, livestock-watering systems.

The program should address some of the high energy needs of intensive farming operations such as greenhouses, dairies and poultry farms, said Carlier.

The on-farm solar program would help producers buy grid connected solar panel systems that can be used to generate electricity and reduce emissions.

Earlier this year, $500,000 was offered for on-farm solar energy, and 86 farmers participated.

The irrigation efficiency program increases the number of eligible projects from an applicant with a funding cap of $15,000, up from $5,000.

The program helps producers invest in new or upgraded low-pressure irrigation equipment, improving water efficiency and reducing energy use.

The Accelerating Agricultural Innovation Program has allocated $1 million to help food processors retrofit their plants with energy-saving technology.

The program is split in two with the first offering help to agricultural societies, industry organizations and producer groups to collaborate on new products, new processes or new business practices in Alberta.

The second is targeted at primary producers, agri-processors and other for-profit companies to assist with the early adoption of new technologies or practices that have the potential for sector-wide impact.

The programs are projected to mitigate 120,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Erna Ference, chair of the Alberta Chicken Producers, said the additional government funding may help producers in that sector.

“A lot of farmers have already made investments and we are fairly efficient,” said Ference, but additional funds can help new farms install more energy efficient systems.

Alberta Chicken Producers has studied the impacts of the new carbon levy. Based on 2015-16 bills, it estimates producers will pay an extra $6,100 more for their natural gas.

Albert Cramer, vice-chair of the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association, said the Oct. 24 announcement was “a good first step” to helping growers install more energy efficient technology.

However, he said most greenhouses are nearly carbon neutral as it is, given that their plants absorb carbon dioxide.

“We’re doing our part,” said Cramer. “The energy we burn, we’re also using that as fuel for our plants.”

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