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Energir partners with Nature Energy to develop 10 RNG plants

IMAGE: Nature Energy biomethanization plant in Korskro
Nature Energy's Korskro biogas plant, inaugurated in May 2019. (Courtesy Nature Energy)

Énergir Development has partnered with Nature Energy to codevelop 10 biomethanization plants in Quebec’s agriculturally dense regions, producing up to 200 million cubic metres of renewable natural gas (RNG) per year.

This would supply one-third of Quebec’s 2030 RNG target – a minimum of 10 per cent of the province’s gas system distribution to be comprised of RNG.

The plants will reduce 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road.

It will generate investments of approximately $1 billion, creating more than 600 indirect jobs and more than 100 direct jobs once the plants are operational.

Nature Energy will be responsible for the design and operation of the facilities, while Énergir will see to construction and development. Both companies will ensure biomass procurement and invest in the portfolio.

The start of the partnership

Conversations between Énergir and Nature Energy began over a year ago.

“We like the approach that they have with the communities in terms of social acceptability. Making sure that (there is) social acceptability with the agricultural people, with the municipalities they're in, which is values that we share as well,” said Éric Lachance, president and CEO of Énergir Inc. in an interview with SustainableBiz. 

“So when they mentioned their interest to actually develop Quebec, we thought of them as good partners for a win-win.” 

Headquartered in Denmark, Nature Energy provides one-third of the Danish gas grid’s biomethane via 13 industrial-scale biomethanization plants. By 2023, it will open two more large-scale biogas plants in the country.

Énergir Development – formerly Valener Inc. – holds a 29 per cent interest in Énergir, L.P.

Énergir, the largest natural gas distribution company in Quebec, is also the largest electricity distributor and the sole natural gas distributor in Vermont. Elsewhere in the U.S., it generates energy from hydraulic, wind and solar sources. It has over $9 billion in assets.

Énergir Development also holds interests in wind farm operations located on the private lands of Seigneurie de Beaupré in Quebec.

Énergir and Nature Energy

Construction will take between 18 and 24 months, which Lachance said is a conservative estimate due to the province’s winter weather. The aim is to have all 10 in operation by 2030.

“Some are, I would say, closer to kind of having the go ahead for starting with authorizations and so on,” he said. “(For) others we identified regions that could be interesting, but we need to have further talks with agricultural municipalities, making sure that there's the acceptability.”

While there were discussions with a number of companies around the world due to what Lachance called a “nascent industry,” the partnership with Nature Energy was inspired in part by what he saw as Europe’s overall early adoption of environmental trends.

“This partnership is the largest single investment in Nature Energy’s history outside of Denmark and we look forward to partnering with Énergir to help Quebec achieve its plan to reduce GHGs (greenhouse gases) for the benefit of local farmers and the community,” said Ole Hvelplund, Nature Energy's president and CEO in a statement.

The number of projects was determined based on the proximity to feedstock and feasibility, rather than trying to provide for a certain amount of the province’s RNG targets. The feedstock will largely be comprised of manure.

“It's really a matter of making sure that there's enough manure and other agricultural waste available,” Lachance said. “. . . That density would mean that everything in terms of feedstock would be no further than 30 to 40 kilometres around.”

Énergir’s future with RNG

Énergir first took interest in RNG around 2009. In 2018, Sainte-Hyacinthe became the first city in Quebec to complete a biomethanization project in partnership with Énergir. The $80-million project reduces emissions by approximately 49,000 equivalent tonnes of CO2 per year. The RNG is being injected into Énergir’s network for a minimum of 20 years.

Quebec City had previously announced plans to introduce RNG into Énergir’s network via construction of the Centre de biométhanisation de l’agglomération de Québec. Lachance said the plant should start injecting RNG in a matter of months. 

The plant will treat food residues in volumes of 86,600 tonnes per year, as well as 96,000 tonnes of biosolids per year.

In June this year, Énergir announced a partnership with environmental and waste management services provider WM to build a $200-million energy complex in Sainte-Sophie which will convert waste biogas into RNG. It will divert 50,000 tonnes of organic matter from landfills and reduce emissions by 140,000 equivalent tonnes per year.

Lachance is confident in meeting the 10 per cent threshold by 2030 and also in partnering financially with other operators in the province, even simply as an investor.

“As a distributor of RNG we remain very supportive of any other projects in the agricultural sector that complement the offering and make economic sense,” Lachance said. “So it's not that we want to be the sole producer in that market, but we wanted to accelerate in this particular segment.”

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