“We want to help our customers generate their own energy so they can become more efficient in their agricultural business.”
Everyone’s in favour of renewable energy, but few do anything about it. Now, if you want a project in your farm, Farm Credit Canada (FCC), has stepped up to the plate with an offer to help farmers and agribusinesses produce their own renewable energy.
Starting March 1, FCC began offering loans with special features for renewable energy projects. For the first $500,000 the features include interest at one percentage point lower than FCC would normally offer for both variable-and fixed-rate loans as well as waivers on loan-processing fees. “We had a lot of energy loans already,” Clem Samson, vice-president of Western Operations for the bank said in an interview. “But, this is something we want to support and something that our farmer panel has indicated is a major interest for farmers. I think we’ll see a lot more energy loans very quickly.”
The loans aren’t intended to fund diversification into power generation. “FCC is not aiming to become a lender for wind farms or similar commercial operations. We want to help our customers generate their own energy so they can become more efficient in their agricultural business,” said Samson.
FCC’s focus on energy loans has been endorsed by FCC Vision, a group of over 9,000 farmers and agribusiness people the bank regularly surveys on their attitudes, interests and concerns as well as for feedback on policies. This group, indicated over 60 per cent were considering ways to improve their environmental stewardship and that for many, environmental impact is a constant consideration in all their activities. The Vision group members were particularly interested in finding ways to gain some financial benefit from practices that benefit the environment.
Renewable energy is a natural fit for farms and agribusiness, says Samson. Simple systems like solar walls and solar water heaters, which transfer the sun’s heat directly or indirectly to air or water can lower costs for space heating and hot water. At the other end of the spectrum, more costly solar panels and wind turbines are becoming more accessible.
Aquilo Power is producing vertical-blade wind turbines that are much quieter and less of a hazard for wildlife than horizontal turbines. Various models are rated for one to 10 kilowatts per hour in winds of 30 miles an hour. The 10-kW model costs around $48,000 plus the cost of a power inverter and the mounting pole. EnergySmart Canada, which sells and installs the turbines, expects to see bigger models available soon.
The smaller models look like a three-tined egg beater with an open end. The larger models have three 20-foot vertical blades on horizontal spokes. All are direct drive, for lower maintenance and, like wind-farm turbines, have composite blades. The company estimates that a 10-kW model running 40 per cent of the time could save 17 tonnes of CO2 per year as well as a considerable portion of a power bill.
Samson has been hearing considerable interest in biogas systems, collecting methane produced by the anaerobic digestion of livestock manure or vegetable waste. The biogas can be used to generate electricity or used directly. Apart from reducing power bills, a biogas system, by containing manure and other waste, eliminates odour and other manure management issues. It may also generate income by accepting waste from other industries and selling compost.
In Ontario, the Agriculture department offers courses in operating biogas systems. In Alberta there are financial and tax incentives and consulting companies such as Green Cow Systems, offer advice.
Geothermal projects can use the even year-round temperature of the earth to heat and cool buildings. These involve pulling air through 60-to 80-foot-deep wells or pipes laid horizontally below the frost line. The air alone can heat or cool barns and other buildings, but for homes, a heat exchanger is added for comfort.
The new FCC loans can be used to invest in any of these renewable energy technologies. “Low-impact renewable energy can have quite high costs, especially when it’s part of retrofitting a building or an operation,” says Samson. “But, the paybacks can be fairly short, often around five years. They reduce the carbon footprint of farming and agribusiness as well as the demand on the electricity supply. They’re good for the environment and help our clients be more efficient.”