Lethbridge Biogas LP owns and operates one of Canada’s largest non-municipal anaerobic digestion facilities in Lethbridge, Alberta and has been in operation since late 2013. The Lethbridge biogas plant is a commercial site that collects material from various sources and generates electricity to sell to the Alberta grid.
Lethbridge Biogas Director, Stefan Michalski, has a background in bioenergy and project development and was brought to Alberta from Germany more than a decade ago under the initiative of a local group to spearhead the development of the project. The group was familiar with the success of biogas in Europe and recognized Lethbridge as an ideal site to develop a project. The Lethbridge area has the largest density of agricultural operations in Canada, with many facilities within a couple hours of the proposed biogas project location.
Lethbridge Biogas accepts livestock manure, agricultural processing residues, and grocery store organics, all in a 2-30 km radius. The facility will soon be able to also process animal by-products with a specially designed, developed in Alberta thermal hydrolysis process. The facility returns the digestate to farmers where the large storage lagoons previously used for manure store the digestate for land application. Over their four years of operation, Lethbridge Biogas has increased annual throughput year after year. In 2014, they processed just over 50,000 tonnes of waste and they forecast processing 90,000 tonnes in 2017. The plant was designed with expansion in mind, including space for an additional digester, a permit for another generator, and extra room onsite for digestate.
The Lethbridge Biogas facility uses the biogas to generate 2.8 MW of electricity on two CHP units for the Alberta grid. The addition of a third CHP unit to increase generation capacity to 4.2 MW is in the works. The Alberta electricity landscape is a fully deregulated market where every MW of power is traded through the Alberta power pool. As a smaller generator, Lethbridge Biogas is compensated on an hourly basis for the electricity they produce. Lethbridge Biogas also collects tipping fees on some waste and generates carbon offsets. Michalski recognized that biogas projects economics are difficult in most spots in Alberta. Facilities that do not have tipping fees and carbon offsets and are solely relying on revenue from electricity are simply not viable at this point.
In developing the project Michalski had many conversations with regulatory bodies and found it challenging as the regulatory system does not yet have a chapter that addresses anaerobic digestion technology. Partly due to this uncertainty, it took Michalski and his partners seven years to put a shovel in the ground. For people looking to develop biogas projects in Alberta, Michalski advises “Talk to somebody who has maneuvered in the space because it will save you quite a bit of grief and hassle”. Michalski and his team are still working with the government to improve the regulatory environment as well as the economic framework for future biogas projects.
Lethbridge Biogas joined the CBA as members in February 2017 and intend to help strength the western outreach of the CBA. Michalski was elected to the CBA Board of Directors at the 2017 AGM and in terms of the outlook for biogas he observes “I think we have a good window of opportunity to get a little more support for biogas both provincially and federally”. They hope that their membership will facilitate a better connection with the biogas community in Canada and that they can participate more with federal activities affecting biogas.