Farmers racing to tap into $35-million energy efficiency program

Interest is high, so producers and processors should get applications in as soon as possible, says official

Producers have been flooding the Alberta government with applications for its new suite of energy efficiency incentive programs.

The province is offering a total of $35 million to producers and agri-processors pursuing solar, irrigation, heating, lighting, and other energy reduction projects.

Included in the suite is the new Farm Energy and Agri-Processing (FEAP) program, a combination of the discontinued Growing Forward 2 On-Farm Energy Management Program (OFEMP) and Accelerating Agricultural Innovation program.

“The FEAP program is seeing massive traffic,” said Jason Price, project manager of energy programs with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

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“We received $3 million in requests per week about a month into the opening. It’s slowing down a little now but we’ve never seen a response like that before. We got our doors blown off.”

The cost share between producers or processors and the province is set at 50 per cent for most FEAP projects (to a maximum per applicant of $200,000 for producers and $250,000 for agri-processors).

The maximum for producers was set at $250,000 towards the end of Growing Forward 2, but funding limitations created the need to claw back this amount.

“We had to tap the brakes on the producer side because we got so many applications,” said Price.

Interest in most programs is high and since applications are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s recommended producers and processors apply early.

Carbon levy funds tapped

The suite of energy efficiency programs includes FEAP for producers, FEAP for agri-processors, the On-Farm Solar Voltaics Program, the Irrigation Efficiency Program, the Energy Savings for Agri-Processors (ESAP) large program, and the ESAP small program.

“The difference between the large and small ESAP programs is just the size of pro­ject. Projects with grants up to $250,000 go to small and over $250,000 go to large,” said Price.

Under Growing Forward 2, the government portion for projects in these categories was shared between the federal and provincial governments. Now they’re funded exclusively through the province’s carbon levy, with the exceptions of the producer side of FEAP and ESAP large (which receive additional funding from the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund).

Eligible FEAP projects are retroactive to April 2016, meaning applicants with eligible receipts dated April 2016 onward can apply. The funding timeline extends to February 2020 or until funding has been allocated.

“The application process is largely the same,” said Price. “Producers apply with their quotes, we review the quotes; mark down what’s eligible and what’s ineligible; and send the applicant a letter indicating what they have been approved for, as well as a claim form to be sent in by a certain date so they can be reimbursed.”

One of the biggest changes is the combination of primary producers and agri-processors into a single program.

“This means anybody in the agricultural supply chain is eligible for energy efficiency projects under this program,” said Price. “Under OFEMP we’d draw the line where the commodity left the farm. Now we’re also funding processors who are taking a commodity and adding value to it.”

This came about after energy efficiency advocates in government identified bakeries as well as food and beverage manufacturing as “hot spots” that were lacking energy efficiency incentives. “Our department is a nice fit because we already have incentives in place on the farm side. Widening it to include the food processors was pretty easy for us.”

What’s new

A new category under FEAP includes co-gen systems, otherwise known as combined heat-power units (CHPs).

“That one’s been getting some interest,” said Price. “They generate electricity for the farm but they also generate heat, so while you’re generating electricity you can use the heat from that and offset your natural gas heating costs.”

Set at a cost share of 50 per cent, eligible CHP systems range from 1.5 kW to 500 kW for on-farm energy use only.

Energy assessments are also new under FEAP. Energy assessors look at entire systems on farms or agri-processing operations to discover efficiencies.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in energy assessments. We’ve been cultivating a list of qualified energy assessors for farms. We haven’t had a lot of luck doing that in previous years, but it seems we’ve found a good formula now. There’s a list on the AF website of maybe 15 assessors who will perform an assessment of a farm or food processor and those are showing some promise. There is some really valuable advice and savings coming out of these reports.”

FEAP co-funds energy audits and assessments at 50 per cent up to a maximum of $9,000. Assessors must be pre-approved before applying. Price recommends looking at the list of energy assessment providers on his department’s website. (Go to www.agric.gov.ab.ca, click the FEAP link and then scroll down to ‘Links and Other Resources.’ Finally, click the “Energy Assessment Providers for Producers” link underneath.)

Here are some changes to the previous programs producers and agri-processors should be aware of:

  • High-volume, low-speed fans have been removed from the funding list.
  • Lighting eligibility has been adjusted to the following requirements: Lighting of less than 30 watts requires an efficacy of 105 lm/w (lumens per watt), lighting of 30 to 60 watts requires an efficacy of 120 lm/w and lighting of more than 60 watts requires efficacy of 140 lm/w.
  • LED lighting designed for greenhouse growing must be in retrofit only.
  • The eligibility of irrigation variable frequency drives (VFDs) has been limited to those installed on systems with a corner arm or end-of-line pressure sensor.

More information on these programs — including answers to frequently asked questions and a list of programs — is available at the Alberta Agriculture website. Check the home page periodically to keep up with changes to the program, Price recommended.

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