Plans for a biogas plant in a rural Vancouver Island neighbourhood are being trumpeted as a win for farmers and the environment.
But they are also raising fears among some Cowichan Valley neighbours.
Cobble Hill Biogas is a co-operative that has been formed between four local dairy farms located in Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay that hope to construct an on-farm biogas plant at a closed-down poultry farm on Cobble Hill’s La Fortune Road.
The operation intends to convert 20,000 tonnes of dairy manure per year and 19,000 tonnes per year of unused food into biogas. The biogas would be converted into 100,000 gigajoules per year of renewable natural gas, enough to heat 1,100 Vancouver Island homes every year, and sold to FortisBC.
According to information on Cobble Hill Biogas’s website, the production of clean RNG will reduce local carbon dioxide emissions by 9,800 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 2,100 vehicles off the road. The website said the operation will also produce a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and clean water as byproducts that will be returned to local farms to grow crops.
But a group of neighbours have formed the “No Biogas Here” organization and held a meeting on Aug. 21 to rally against the plant, claiming it would be bad for the area.
“We are not opposed to biogas technology, but we are opposed to the location (of this proposal),” said No Biogas Here member Donna Boyd. “This is a large industrial process that doesn’t belong in a residential area with more than 600 homes within a three-kilometre radius.
“The two other on-farm biogas operations in B.C. are on much larger farms with no residential properties nearby. The property also sits on the boundaries of two major aquifers and the plant would likely increase the risk of contamination.”
Boyd said there are also concerns about the odours from the facility.
“We have been assured that there will be little or no odour beyond the property line, but odour doesn’t recognize property lines or boundaries,” she said. “Research has shown that odour has been a continuing problem with biogas plants. This will impact the quality of life and property values for the local residents and businesses. We also have additional concerns about increased truck traffic, fire risks, flare stacks, noise and the financial feasibility of the project.”
Josh Larson, one of the proponents of Cobble Hill Biogas, said he was surprised to hear of opposition to such an environmentally friendly project that comes with benefits to local farmers.
“We thought it would be championed by the neighbours,” he said. “We had no idea it would be received by some this way, and it has taken us totally off guard.”
Larson said the facility, if given the green light to proceed by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and other regulatory bodies, will be a top notch, state-of-the-art operation that will not be a problem for the area and the neighbours.
The CVRD has yet to review and write a staff report on the proposal.
“We’ve done the research and the guys we plan to build it helped write the standard for biodigesters in Canada,” Larson said.
“There wouldn’t even be any smells outside the borders of the facility itself, much less the borders of the property. Facilities like this are in operation close to schools and hospitals around the world.”
Larson acknowledged that the two other on-farm biogas facilities in B.C. are in much more wide-open places than Cobble Hill Biogas, but it’s the nature of the Cowichan Valley to have farms situated among residential areas, and it’s supported by local zoning bylaws.
“We have no intention of being a nuisance to our neighbours,” he said. “We want to improve lives. I’m just a farmer and a straight shooter, and I’m hoping the truth of this proposed operation will come out eventually.”