The third quarter of 2012 was highlighted by:
- A shift in ReGenerate’s business strategy, as a result of the changing market in Ontario.
- Lease and operating agreement signed between ZooShare and the Toronto Zoo
- Continued development of the Dog Park Digester
What we’ve been up to
The market for renewable power in Ontario continues to get more challenging with each passing day. It is now commonly known that we have a surplus of power in the Province, and that we don’t really need more. The most recent recession worked wonderfully to reduce energy demand, and the strong demand for the FIT program has easily filled any gaps in supply we’ve had. That being said, there is still a market for clean baseload power supply, like what we get from hydro and biogas plants (as non-intermittent power sources). And there is still a massive amount of organic waste and manure that is not being sustainably managed. The Biogas Association has estimated that there is 250 MW worth of biogas potential in Ontario alone, which isn’t a massive amount of power, but it would be a massive amount of emission reductions, waste diversion, and renewable energy and fertilizer production. There are still many opportunities to produce biogas that don’t have anything to do with the Ontario Power Authority and politics.
ReGenerate’s revised strategy puts more emphasis on different biogas development models, the integration of food, waste and energy systems, and using as much local waste and capital as possible. There will be a reduced emphasis on power production and Ontario, and a greater focus on other parts of the value chain, like food producers and retailers, and municipalities, to get their waste into biogas plants. Through online marketing and deep market knowledge, we are now looking to develop projects around North America. There are many opportunities all over as biogas has yet to take hold on this side of the Atlantic the way it has in Europe and Asia.
- ZooShare Biogas Co-operative – The third quarter of 2012 was both very exciting and frustrating.
- We executed our contracts with the Toronto Zoo, something that had been in progress for 14 months! I greatly underestimated how long this would take, largely because I haven’t signed 20 year lease contracts with municipal agencies before. Even though I didn’t listen, it was as long and painful as people told me it would be.
- The OPA finally announced when the FIT application window would open (October 1), meaning that we wouldn’t receive a contract offer at the earliest until April 2013. Unfortunately, I had been planning the project and making decisions based on an assumption that the OPA would make a contract offer in the fall of this year, which seemed realistic back in March when the FIT review ended and the draft rules were released. We unfortunately had to lay off our one employee as it became obvious we weren’t going to be receiving a contract until an unknown date in the 2013. The FIT window has still not opened and there is uncertainty if or when it will open as a result of the premier’s resignation and the impending provincial election.
- The FIT news was also a rude awakening for me and ReGenerate, as we had not been getting paid with any sort of regularity – I kept telling myself that I could wait until the FIT contract arrived. The target has continued to move backwards and my finances reached the limit of what I could take in terms of work done without timely payment. The Board and the co-op are now focused on getting some outside investment to rectify the cash constraints, which is challenging due to the ongoing ambiguity with the OPA and the Ontario government.
- ZooShare wrapped up its season at the Brickworks’ and Junction farmer’s markets with dates in July, August and September. Overall, getting out to meet people in our target market was both fun and educational. We learned what’s missing from our marketing materials and displays, and what people are most interested in about the project in contrast to what we thought was interesting about it. We got many new sign-ups for our newsletter and gained fans, but it’s hard to sell when you don’t have anything to sell, outside of memberships. People want the Community Bonds, and want to know when they will be available. In the end, we realized that it’s hard to justify the time at the market for awareness raising alone. When everything is ready and the bonds are available, it will be much more productive.
- I was also honoured to speak at a Young Non-profit Professionals event and the Green Jobs Forum, about biogas, ZooShare and my journey. Both events were energizing, as I was able to brainwash (okay, inspire) some people into loving biogas as much as I do, and I got to meet some really passionate and inspiring people doing some very cool work.
- Dog Park Digester – A grant application from the Ward 32 Renewable Energy Committee (located in the Beach, in Toronto) got through the first round of the LiveGreen Toronto Community Investment Program, taking us one step closer to building a pilot digester in the Kew Gardens Dog Park in 2013. ReGenerate is working together with W32 REC on this project, and we are looking forward to finding out in December if our grant application was successful. In addition to this application, we also began some preliminary research with the Ministry of Environment on the approvals process and have reached out to the Cambridge parks department to hear about their experience with Park Spark. There is still much left work to do before the project can become a reality, including finding a corporate sponsor to share the cost, selecting a bag manufacturer whose bags will break down in the digester, and completing engineering design.
- Pursuing this project has been a full little side project thus far, something I thought would be cool to do, but not necessarily a viable business pursuit. However, it’s looking like this may catch on a bit, as dog waste is a meaningful problem for some municipalities, and other pioneering individuals have started similar projects all over the world, including Wales, Australia and New York City. We are going to see if perhaps it would make some sense to form an alliance and share the engineering costs between each of our projects.
- Other activities:
- The shift in strategy also led to revisions in our logos, branding and website. We are looking forward to a launch of our new website in early 2013. An additional positive is that a new business plan has been put together and I am working with the advisors at the RIC Centre generate some leads and raise some investment funds, which would allow us to focus on business development activities instead of living payment to payment from ZooShare.
- In August, we were asked to make a presentation to a group of people in Millbrook (Peterborough County) who were interested in starting a co-operative to develop a biogas project. The presentation took place in early October to about 25 people, including the mayor, and has resulted in increased interest in biogas among the core group. If they decide to go ahead and pursue a FIT application or something similar, I anticipate that we’ll get started in early 2013.
- I played in the annual Ontario Waste Management Association golf tournament, which was my first time spending more time with people in this industry after adding organic waste management strategies to ReGenerate’s service offering. I anticipate attending more of these events going forward as we learn and grow in this area.
- We had an initial conversation with the head of economic development in Prince Edward County about the potential of biogas in ‘the County’, and completing a General Resource Assessment to map out the opportunities that exist there.
- And last but not least, we had a meeting with the Community Power Network, an organization based out of Washington DC that is doing their best to grow the community power sector in the US and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resource among groups across the country. Currently, almost all of the info and resources on the website are based on solar, so we are going to work together to increase the presence of biogas, with the hope of spurring the development of more community-owned biogas plants in the US (something I’m very eager to see happen, as you would imagine).