This consultation was open from:
January 28, 2020
to March 13, 2020
The province is proposing amendments to the General Regulation (O. Reg. 267/03 – General) under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA) to expand the regulatory framework for on-farm regulated mixed anaerobic digestion facilities.
The Ontario government is proposing changes to the General Regulation (O. Reg. 267/03 – General) made under the NMA to ease the burden for agricultural producers that wish to operate a regulated mixed anaerobic digestion facility.
The proposed changes would make it easier and faster for agricultural producers to establish an on-farm, energy-generating regulated mixed anaerobic digestion projects that would operate under the regulatory requirements of the NMA. This would help reduce approval costs for farmers and achieve objectives of driving economic development in the province, while continuing to protect our environment.
Proposed changes would encourage development of renewable natural gas at on-farm regulated mixed anaerobic digestion facilities by allowing greater flexibility in type, volume and proportion of off-farm anaerobic digestion materials while enhancing requirements to protect the environment and reduce noise and odour impacts in rural communities.
Currently, the NMA and the General Regulation (O. Reg. 267/03 – General) regulate some on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities that mix on-farm anaerobic digestion materials (e.g., manure, corn silage) and off-farm anaerobic digestion materials (e.g. food processing products and by-products). O. Reg. 267/03 – General calls these anaerobic digestion facilities regulated mixed anaerobic digestion facilities (RMADFs). Other anaerobic digestion facilities are regulated by an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) or a Renewable Energy Approval issued under the Environmental Protection Act. This proposal focuses on the on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities regulated under the Regulation.
The purpose of the NMA is to provide for the management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development. O. Reg. 267/03 – General under the NMA originally came into force in 2003 to further this purpose. O. Reg. 267/03 – General has evolved and regulates the management of a variety of prescribed materials including their storage and land application and it also regulates the use of RMADFs on a farm unit on which an agricultural operation is carried out.
O. Reg. 267/03 – General has design and processing requirements that facilities must meet to operate as an RMADF.
Existing regulatory requirements under the O. Reg. 267/03 – General were designed when the biogas industry was new in Ontario, and the rules have been updated over time. These requirements were designed for RMADFs within the context of generating electricity and do not easily accommodate systems developing the capacity to produce renewable natural gas. As the renewable natural gas marketplace develops, the province is proposing several regulatory changes to address the increasing demand for renewable natural gas.
Proposed regulatory amendments
1. Design and Construction Requirements
Changes are proposed so that O. Reg. 267/03 can accommodate anaerobic digestion systems that generate renewable natural gas on farms. Changes are also proposed to clarify design requirements that strengthen environmental protections. The changes could include:
- clarified design requirements to enable biogas upgrading to renewable natural gas on an agricultural operation under the Nutrient Management Act
- clearly define what components fall under the definition of an RMADF and therefore are required to meet certain rules within the regulation, for example setback requirements, and systems required to reduce potential for noise and odour
- clarified digester tank design to bring liner and containment requirements into conformity with other permanent storage systems on the farm
2. Permitted Feedstocks
Changes are proposed to provide greater flexibility in quantity and type of permitted feedstock for RMADFs (for materials from both on-farm and off-farm sources) under the Nutrient Management Act, including:
- changes to quantity limits of off-farm materials (materials that do not come from an agricultural operation) with plans to avoid possible noise and odour impacts:
- increase maximum allowable limits (daily and annually) of off-farm materials, accompanied by new requirements for odour control and odour management plans
- remove restrictions on the quantity of on-farm materials (materials from agricultural operations):
- remove the restriction on materials that can be received from other farms, provided the RMADF is located on an agricultural operation that generates manure
- increase allowable proportion of non-manure based agricultural materials for digestion with manure
- provide greater flexibility for the types of off-farm materials that can be used in the digester
- propose that manure from non-farm herbivorous animals including associated runoff and washwater could be added to Schedule 1
- propose that certain de-packaged and screened source separated organics could be added to the list of Schedule 2 off-farm anaerobic digestion materials
- propose new regulatory process to make it easier to approve new feedstocks in the future
3. Operational Requirements
Simplifying operational requirements regarding the sampling and analysis of received anaerobic digestion materials would help reduce costs and enhance operational flexibility for farmers while maintaining risk-based performance requirements and environmental standards. Changes could include:
- reduce requirements for accepting a load of off-farm anaerobic digestion materials that is to be diverted to another RMADF if it is already known to be acceptable under the NMA
- propose that if a material is currently being sent to a RMADF, and if a valid lab analysis is currently in place for the first RMADF, that a single new load of material could be sent to a second RMADF prior to completion of a fresh lab analysis
Analysis of regulatory impact
It is anticipated there would be no net increase in burden to businesses. The proposed change would enable livestock producers to develop a new revenue stream by providing access to the renewable natural gas generation market while continuing to provide a source of nutrients and organic matter for use on farm fields.
A clear, predictable process under the NMA can reduce time (6-12 months) and investment (potentially $30,000-$60,000) compared to other environmental approval pathways for farms looking to build an on-farm RNG RMADF.
Clear requirements under the NMA regulation would expedite new on-farm RMADF projects at reduced cost. Currently, a site-specific ECA is required. A digester that secures an ECA is also required to post a Financial Assurance bond with MECP, which can be thousands of dollars.
The time required to undertake an RMADF (2-3 months) is shorter than an ECA (6-12 months), as the prescriptive NMA requirements require less detailed analysis prior to approval.
Greater flexibility in the amount and type of on and off-farm feedstocks permitted for use in anaerobic digesters would make the generation of RNG more efficient and economical for farmers, while continuing to protect the environment.
Simplifying requirements for sampling and analysis of received materials would reduce costs and enhance operational flexibility for farmers. The proposed changes will benefit agricultural operations through a streamlined process that allows for reduced time for approvals while maintaining environmental standards and protections. Minimal administrative costs may include the time required by agricultural producers to read and understand the regulatory changes, should they be approved.
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