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BC farmers consider manure for power

For a few years now, Europeans have been capturing the power of cow poop -- and soon Lower Mainland residents may be able to do the same by purchasing bio-methane instead of natural gas to heat their homes and water.

Chris Bush, an Abbotsford farmer and founder of Catalyst Power Inc., is currently in discussions with Terasen Gas to supply the company with methane from his anaerobic digester.

In July, Bush was awarded $1.5 million from the province's Innovative Clean Energy fund to develop the project. Anaerobic digestion is a technology that decomposes organic waste in the absence of oxygen and captures the methane gas released in the process. Bush said his goal is to have the project up and running by early next year. If successful, it would be the first of its kind in B.C.

In the past two months Terasen has held workshops across the province to gauge interest in anaerobic digestion. The company is targeting not only farmers and agricultural waste, but also sewage treatment plants and landfills.

The price of natural gas right now in B.C. is $7.54 per gigajoule. Bush said that methane from organic waste would be a "premium product" and cost more, but a price hasn't yet been determined.

"We would have to look at each project individually and then determine how much you can spend per gigajoule," said Michael Chrisholm, director of communications for Terasen.

"Right now we’re just doing a back and forth exchange of information as people look at this idea and try and determine if they can make a proposal."

Since 2004, a Vermont utility has been selling "cowpower:" electricity produced by putting the methane gas produced from anaerobic digestion through a generator. Electrical, or even co-generation of electricity and gas likely isn’t an option here, however, because of the low cost of hydroelectricity.

Bush called bio-methane production a "huge opportunity we are largely missing here in B.C." and said he believed customers would pay more for the renewable fuel.

"I wanted to raise my family on a farm," he said. "The business person in me said we need to look for trends."

Will it be a trend that catches on in B.C.? Other farmers aren't so sure, especially with the costs and complications of delivering the gas.

Dick Kleingeltink of Kline Valley Farm in Langely, said he isn't interested in working with Terasen because there is not a gas line near his property.

Electricity production would be a better option for him, he said, but "right now, it wouldn't pay."

Colleen Kimmett is a regular contributor to the Hook.

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