Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Canola crops considered for biofuel plant proposal
by FRANK PEEBLES
Unprecedented kinds of cash crops might be grown in the Prince George area if a proposed biodiesel plant goes forward as planned in northeastern B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Bell said the plant may mean canola, a large part of the landscape in the Peace country, could be grown in the Prince George area for the first time. It is contingent, though, on the fuel factory. "It looks very promising," said Bell, MLA for Prince George North. "The entire production of canola in the Peace does not meet the requirements of a plant of that size, but certainly with our proximity to the canola fields of Alberta and other parts of the province, we would certainly be able to feed that plant."Bell is casting his gaze directly at the Prince George area, where no canola farming currently exists. "The reason canola has not been done here in the past is because there is too much moisture to dry the grain out," said Bell, referring to canola used for food production. "That is not an issue if you are producing canola for biodiesel, so it presents an interesting opportunity." Local farmers are considering the option. Nancy Loreth is with the Mud River Farmers' Institute, which hosted a social day recently at the Loreth farm with Bell in attendance. It was there the dialogue about local canola began between government and industry. "Even for ourselves, it has been talked about," Loreth said. "It has been talked about for years, but how accessible would the market be? The group out here is talking about biodiesel, but we need to see the plant built first and how long will that take? No one is ordering seed, let's put it that way, but if that plant is actually built..."A feasibility study recently completed on the proposed plant shows strong signs for going ahead, along with the announcement by Energy Minister Richard Neufeld, a Peace-country resident, that the B.C. government will demand some of the highest biodiesel usage in the world in the coming years. "We hope that means they will want to put a plant in B.C.," said Garnet Berge, chair of the B.C. Grain Producers' Association biodiesel committee. "Our consultants have started working on the business plan already in the hopes that it will come together. Equipment is hard to get quickly because there are numerous plants being announced in other jurisdictions, so we want to get our work done and save us that time on the ordering, if we get the go-ahead."The plant, said Bell and Berge, would cost in the neighbourhood of $25 million to build and would be capable of producing about 22 million litres of diesel per year. To do that, the plant would need about 56,000 tonnes of canola. The bulk of that would come from the immediate area around the plant, likely situated in Dawson Creek, but the rest could easily come from the Prince George region with the close road and rail links, and any shortfall could be made up by the ample canola shipments that already flow through Dawson Creek from Alberta. Loreth's main concern, from the farmer's perspective, is profit potential. Berge said the answer to that is a dreaded word to most food farmers: subsidy. A new kind of farmer is emerging, the energy grower, and subsidies are already a reality in that industry, he said. Government in the United States underwrites its biodiesel production at a rate of 30 cents per litre. He said the BCGPA has hopes the Canadian government will kick in 20 cents per litre and the B.C. government will kick in nine cents per litre, matching Alberta's offer for biodiesel plants to set up shop in that province.