B.C. operators receive an 80 percent rebate, which may have influenced the Alberta government’s decision
Alberta’s greenhouse industry will get relief from the newly implemented provincial carbon levy.
It’s good news for growers who were facing a $1 per gigajoule increase on natural gas this year and another 50 cents per gigajoule increase in 2018.
The government announced Dec. 31 that greenhouse growers will be able to recoup up to 80 percent of the carbon levy on natural gas.
For Albert Cramer, vice-chair of the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association and operator of two large vegetable-growing greenhouses in the Medicine Hat area, the rebate is a huge relief on all fronts.
“Natural gas is our biggest fuel,” he said, speaking of all Alberta greenhouses.
“It’s one of our biggest expenses, besides labour, so it’s a big deal.”
Cramer said the industry did some intense lobbying in an effort to obtain a rebate, and the government listened.
“They’ve been very responsive,” he said.
“I’m going to say I was surprised. I don’t like to sound negative, but sometimes we feel government is never listening. We were very pleasantly surprised.”
British Columbia’s greenhouse industry is the primary competition for Alberta growers, and B.C. operators receive an 80 percent rebate on the carbon levy there. Alberta’s carbon reduction plan was based in part on the B.C. version, and Cramer said he thinks that helped make the case.
“It’s a two year (rebate) program that they set out, so they did put a limit on it,” he said.
“What we as an industry are going to do is continue to work with the government.”
The carbon levy is part of the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan, which imposes a $20 per tonne levy on all fuel that emits greenhouse gases. That figure rises to $30 per tonne in 2018.
As of Jan. 1, there is a 4.49 cents per litre levy on gas, 5.35 cents per litre on diesel, 3.08 cents per litre on propane and $1.011 per gigajoule on natural gas. Marked farm fuels are exempt.
Low and middle-income households will receive full or partial rebates on the levy, according to the government plan. Money collected is to be reinvested in projects to diversify the economy and reduce “carbon pollution,” the government said.
Rallies held in various cities over the past few months called on the NDP government to delay implementation of the climate plan and put it to a referendum. That did not occur, and the plan was implemented Jan. 1.
Several agricultural commodity groups have spoken against the carbon tax amid concerns it will increase input costs for farmers on everything from fertilizer to transport.
Cramer acknowledged that other sectors have sought relief from the tax.
“The government is in a tough spot,” he said. “Everybody’s asking for a rebate. They did look at our industry, and I think it’s because it’s local food and now with the industry, the way it’s going with year-round production, it’s very high costs.”
Electricity is one of those costs, and it isn’t yet known how the carbon tax will affect electrical rates.
At Cramer’s Big Marble Farms, which produces vegetables year round, electricity costs are even higher than natural gas heating costs.
Without a rebate, the carbon tax would have increased natural gas costs by $300,000 for Big Marble in the first year of implementation.
The government has also developed programs to help greenhouse growers increase their energy efficiency.
“That’s an ongoing thing. We’ll continue to work with the government and try to of course extend that program,” Cramer said.
Government plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by October 2018 is another worry for greenhouse operators, he added.
“The numbers get really big when you start to deal with minimum wage (and the) carbon tax,” he said.
“It was something that was hitting us, both at the same time, so we had to react to try to get the government to understand our industry and that there’s not that much profit in this industry to be able to absorb that just in one shot.”