Harvesting Clean Energy on Ontario Farms

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Harvesting Clean Energy on Ontario Farms

 

June 27, 2011
Kristi Anderson, Arne Jungjohann, Tim Weis

This report highlights the untapped business opportunities for farmers that can be found in renewable energy. The report will be presented during a tour through the Canadian province of Ontario in partnership with the Climate Action Network Canada, Pembina Institute, and The United Church of Canada. It focuses on numerous benefits of renewable energy, such as rural economic development and improved environmental conditions. It also describes the government policies needed to allow farmers to embrace these benefits.

Agriculture and Renewables: Many Synergies

The renewable energy and agriculture sectors have clear, and underexplored, synergies. Vast areas of farmland can be used for wind installations without impacting agricultural yields, and the crops themselves can be used as a source of power or heat generation and fuel supply. Even farm byproducts like animal waste can be converted to biogas and used for heat and electricity generation. Farm-based power generation can be utilized onsite or sold to utilities, while non-electric products (like biofuels, biogas) can be sold to distributors. These options allow the farms to either reduce their own energy costs or receive an income for the products they produce.

Renewables also offer benefits beyond the farm—both to the surrounding rural community as well as to the nation. Renewable energy from farms can aid in developing and strengthening local economies in two ways. First, supplemental services and product providers will emerge in response to renewable energy development in the community, in turn creating jobs1 and income. Second, revenue flowing to the farm from renewables can be spent locally. Renewables also contribute to the country as a whole, achieving national goals of energy security and independence, as well as pollution reduction.

Agriculture is increasingly a focus for innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are agricultural harvests threatened by a rapidly changing climate, globally, the energy sector is the only sector producing more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than agriculture.2 Agricultural activities are responsible for 5% of the total GHG emissions in Ontario with the majority coming from nitrous oxide (55%), methane (33%), and carbon dioxide (12%). Manure management is the source of 15% of the GHGs from agricultural operations. Enteric fermentation (methane released from cows during digestion) comprises 32% of total GHGs from agriculture, and soils make up the remaining 53% of GHG emissions from agriculture in Ontario.

Therefore, policymakers are increasingly interested in working with farmers and agricultural organizations to encourage more climate-friendly strategies for existing farming practices, and to enable farmers’ investment in low-carbon energy. Ontario has recently taken major strides to move itself to the forefront of clean energy developments in North America. However, in comparison to Germany, one of the leaders in clean energy development, Ontario farmers have so far only begun to participate in this field. As this paper shows, German farmers have led numerous investments in wind and solar power as well as biogas. This active participation by farmers in clean energy development has been argued as being one of the reasons for the success Germany has had as it transitions to a cleaner energy system. These strategies provide lessons for Ontario policy makers and beyond.

This paper explores lessons learned at the intersection of renewable energy and agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic. The paper provides an overview of renewable energy on farms and discusses the drivers for deployment in Germany and in Ontario. It also compares the German experience to Ontario and offers suggestions for which drivers in Germany may benefit Canadian farmers. Finally, the paper offers some suggestions for further research and action to help Canadian farmers become “energy farmers” in the 21st century.

Click here to read Harvesting Clean Energy on Ontario Farms (58 pages, pdf, 2.37MB)