“If I Had A Million Tonnes Of Credits, I Could Sell A Million Tonnes.”
Anthony Weisshaar, President of Terra Verde Emissions Credit Inc. (TVEC), looks at home sitting in his third-floor corporate office near the heart of downtown Calgary. But, being a longtime prairie farmer (he still runs 5,100 acres with his brother in Wilcox, Saskatchewan), he’s just as comfortable looking out at the wide-open prairie from the seat of a combine. This combination of corporate savvy and on-farm experience continues to drive the success of TVEC – and is convincing an increasing number of Alberta farmers to cash in on carbon credit revenues.
In operation since the province’s creation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations in 2007, aggregators like TVEC act as middlemen between large-scale emitters who want to purchase carbon credits and farmers who have credits to sell.
Because purchasing offset credits is easier and more cost-effective than mitigating carbon emissions in other ways, there is huge demand from emitters.
“If I had a million tonnes of credits, I could sell a million tonnes,” Weisshaar says.
He says that while several aggregating firms popped up when the regulations were first announced, few have managed to stay afloat over the longer term. “The growing pains in the industry assured that it was the more straightforward providers – those operating on thin margins, low overhead, and consistent payouts – that survived in the marketplace,” Weisshaar says.
To date, the province has established 10 carbon-credit-producing protocols related to agriculture. By far the largest of these carbon credit generators is zero-or reduced-tillage management. TVEC is able or is working towards being able to purchase credits for other agriculture-related protocols, including methane capture from lagoons and reduced days on feed in the beef and pork industry.
Sale of carbon credits by producers is gaining traction as government, agricultural industry organizations and aggregators work to inform farmers about how the carbon credit system works and how they can benefit.
Weisshaar says TVEC has paid more than $5 million to Alberta farmers to date, and is currently working on payouts for two more projects: a Series VI protocol (for offsets from 2002 to 2009) and a Series VII contract (for offsets from 2002 to 2010). To date, this payout averages $36,692 per individual producer (based on an average farm size of 3,500 acres).
Weisshaar says many potential dollars that still remain unclaimed by Alberta farmers. Rough estimates suggest that there are about 900,000 tonnes per year of potential carbon credits available from existing minimum-till operations in Alberta. Because vintage credits from as far back as 2002 can still be sold, that estimate works out to almost eight million tonnes of potential carbon credits to date. However, the total amount of carbon credits actually sold by farmers to date is in the range of between two and 2.6 million tonnes.
Weisshaar says several factors influence the seemingly low uptake versus potential: farmers are protective about their land and worry (unnecessarily) that selling carbon credits could somehow affect their title or release some property rights. Secondly, some farmers have been confused by carbon credit purchasing operations that work outside of provincial protocol (voluntary markets are not nearly as regulated or as legitimate as compliance-based markets). Thirdly, in cases of lease-held land, landlords and leaseholders must work together to complete the requirements to sell credits.