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Banana peels to biogas

The Vantreight family farm is moving ahead in an attempt to create its own energy source while diverting compostable material from the waste stream.

Ryan Vantreight made a presentation to a meeting of all three Peninsula municipalities to explain the process.

“Vantreight Integrated Resource Management has been a process we’ve been looking at as well as a technology we’ve been researching that started about three years ago. We do, right now, aerobic composting, so it’s outdoor with forced air going through it,” said Vantreight.

“The first stage of this project is feed-stock. Getting the feed-stock. Household organics right now are going to be part of the landfill unless someone has a green thumb and does composting in their backyard,” he said.

The Vantreights propose to use bio-digesters for the anaerobic digestion of organic matter to create heat and energy for the farm and community. The contained composting creates heat and natural gas which would be used on the farm, while methane is collected, reducing green house gas emissions.

Their plan is to collect compostable material from Peninsula businesses and households biweekly in the winter and weekly during the summer months. The total cost per household is estimated at $95.52 per year. Vantreight said it would also reduce the amount of garbage being taken to the landfill by 35 to 40 per cent.

Up to 20 per cent of the compost created will be available to local farms for a fee, the other 80 per cent would be used on Vantreight Farm. The natural gas created by the process would also be made available for local hospitals and other public facilities that use natural gas.

“We have been approved in writing by the ALC (Agricultural Land Comission) to process up to 45,000 tonnes a year of organic matter on the farm as a farm use,” Vantreight said.

“We will not be using sewage sludge, municipal waste from the sewage treatment plant (for input) and our electricity and transport fuels (output) will be later. What we will be using the biogas for is heating greenhouses to be able to grow more food,” he said.

“We already have letters of interest from commercial and industrial facilities that want to be able to utilize this process for their organic waste stream. What we’re looking to fill in 10 to 15 per cent is Saanich Peninsula — Saanich basically — first-come-first-served. We have the capacity and as soon as we have those agreements in place we know how much we can build and we can then engineer that facility … December 31, 2012 is when we want to be able to have our operation up and running.”

Sidney councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey asked Vantreight what happens if residents who already compost do not want to participate. “From local municipalities you need 15,000 tonnes … if people don’t want to pay for that service, do they have to? Right now I pay for garbage, I do not want to have to pay for this because I have a composter in my backyard and that’s where it all goes and I’m sure there’s all sorts of folks like that living here,” he said.

“This is, I think, where the conversation begins, how that would be structured,” Vantreight answered.

“In North Saanich there are lots of people that have very large properties that actually already do their own organic processing and certainly there’s lots of farms … so it’s a bit of a trickier issue when you don’t have concentrated populations,” said North Saanich councillor Ruby Commandeur. “It might be a better focal point in Dean Park where we have a concentration of housing or in Sidney or in some parts of Central Saanich, but it might be difficult to do that as an entire municipality to say, ‘everybody has to be on board and pay that $95.’”

“At one point or another it won’t be a choice,” said Vantreight. “At one point or another organics will need to go somewhere. What we’re proposing is somewhere that would be able to utilize on farm to reduce green house gas emissions … How it’s structured within the municipalities may be challenging but it’s definitely something that’s coming.”

“It’s to a point where we either sink or swim. We need to be able to move forward with this and what we need to do is be able to have those long-term agreements. This is the start of the conversation and we will be going to the other municipalities to be able to make that organic tonnage. It wasn’t solely focus on Central Saanich North Saanich it will go first-come-first-served,” said Vantreight.

“You may find it more efficient to start at the CRD (Capital Regional District) level,” said Sidney Mayor Larry Cross. “It feels a little dodgy to me, to ask us as a community, to sign a supply agreement with you by September of this year, given what’s happening in the larger picture of the CRD … also our own agreements with our service providers in terms of collection.”

Vantreight said the tonnage and timeline are attainable goals if there is both public and political will to move forward. “The main goal is to get in front of the CRD organics ban — which is coming,” he said. The ban that was scheduled for  May 1, 2012 has now been postponed to 2013.

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