Doug Chorney says more time is needed to develop biomass as an alternative fuel for those now burning coal
The Manitoba government is delaying its ban on burning coal for heat.
The ban was set to go into effect on Jan. 1 (save for Manitoba Hydro and lime maker Graymont located near Moosehorn), but has been pushed back three years for those with an approved conversion plan filed by June 20, 2014.
Keystone Agricultural Producers welcomes the extension, said president Doug Chorney.
“This is a good example of something KAP has done that you wouldn’t necessarily see other farm groups being able to work on,” said Chorney, adding coal burners will have more time to find alternatives, including biomass.
The government also announced an immediate ban on burning petroleum coal (petcoal) for heating. It emits more greenhouse gases than regular coal.
A government official said there are an estimated 200 to 300 coal burners in Manitoba, including 71 farmers. An estimated 67,500 tonnes of coal were burned in 2012.
Money from a 2011 provincial tax on coal has been used to provide $700,000 to assist 20 coal users to convert to biomass, including Providence College in Otterburn, Pineland Forest Nursery in Hadashville, Vanderveen’s Greenhouse in Carman, and the Rosebank Hutterite Colony.
But it’s going to take time to convert others, Chorney said.
“If we had all the coal burners switching tomorrow, you’d need significant storage and facilities,” he said. “There isn’t really an established supply chain.”
Flax shives, oat hulls and wheat straw make up much of the biomass currently being burned in Manitoba. It’s hoped biomass production could become another source of income for Manitoba farmers. But Chorney noted better equipment is allowing farmers to more effectively work straw into the soil to improve tilth and add nutrients, and that’s made them less enthusiastic about removing crop residues.
Switchgrass, cattails (which collect nutrients from water), and trees such as willows are other biomass options, he said.
In the meantime, some coal burners have switched to natural gas where it’s available, Chorney said. It’s not only cheap, but also simple to use. Biomass is more cumbersome requiring product delivery and storage, as well as ash disposal.
“Coal is an attractive product because of the cost,” Chorney said. “It is very economical and that’s definitely a driver. A lot of effort would have to go into making biomass cost competitive. You need economies of scale to really be efficient I think.”
A list of biomass suppliers is available on the Manitoba Biomass Energy Support Program website at www.gov.mb.ca/agricul ture/agrienergy/pdf/mbesp-phase3-questions-answers.pdf. Biomass supplier/buyer information is also becoming available on a pilot biomass brokerage site provided by the Providence University College (www.bullercentre.com/biomass-brokerage).
The Manitoba government also announced it has hired the International Institute for Sustainable Development to lead public meetings this fall to update Manitoba’s climate and green economy plan.
The coal tax ranges from $14.27 to $23.97 a tonne, depending on emissions. Penalties for those who don’t stop burning coal by 2017 or fail to have a conversion plan will be outlined in the regulations and will likely be similar to fines for similar offences, such as for illegal straw burning, a government official said.