Greenhouses and other intensive agricultural operations will bear the full brunt of the carbon tax when it comes into force in January if measures aren’t taken by the NDP government to mitigate the worst effects, says Albert Cramer, vice chair of the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association (AGGA) and owner of Rolling Acres Greenhouses near Medicine Hat.
“Rolling Acres is about 8.5 acres,” explains Cramer to put the effect of tax in context. “It’s going to cost me a dollar a giga-joule, and we burn about 65,000 giga-joules a year. So the carbon tax will cost me about $65,000 this year at $20/ tonne. And this is an efficient greenhouse. As soon as it goes up to $30/ tonne, it will cost me $95,000. And when it goes to $50/tonne, like Trudeau wants to do, it is going to go up to $150,000 for this 8.5 acre place.
“At this point they are not looking at any carbon tax rebates for the greenhouse industry,” continues Cramer. “If you are trying to tax somebody for carbon, and the reason to tax people is to make them more efficient, and to burn less carbon, if we are already doing that then you need to reduce my carbon tax.”
Cramer says greenhouse growers in the province are not opposed to paying their fair share of the carbon tax, but his AGGA members feel the government is not giving them enough credit for what they already are doing to mitigate the effects of their use of carbon in their greenhouses.
“We do burn a fair amount of fuel, but with the fuel we do burn we actually absorb a lot of that carbon. That’s the thing we are trying to convince the government of, and the public about—greenhouses are not a dirty emitter. Yes we burn a fair amount of natural gas, which is probably the cleanest fuel we have, to create CO2 to feed our plants. That’s a fertilizer for our plants. It’s an amount 20-25 per cent increase in production when you feed them CO2.
“Here at Rolling Acres I’ve got every (energy efficiency system) in here I possibly need. We have energy curtains, a heat storage tank and energy efficient boiler… Overall we probably absorb about 60 per cent of the carbon we burn. That’s a big number. In the summer it’s probably closer to 85 per cent.”
Cramer says there are good incentive programs in Growing Forward II which have allowed many greenhouses to upgrade their boilers and other operations to create greater energy efficiency, the problem is you can only take advantage of those programs once. Once you are upgraded as far as you can, there is only so much you can do from that point to reduce your carbon footprint.
“There are rebates available through Growing Forward II, but the problem is the carbon tax is every year,” says Cramer.
AGGA will continue to push for recognition of all the work the Alberta greenhouse industry has done to make itself more carbon efficient, but if the government refuses to acknowledge these steps the industry has taken, and bulls ahead as it has been doing, Cramer says there likely could be widespread greenhouse closures across the province in the next few years.
“The carbon tax is going to hurt us as an industry,” states Cramer. “The problem being mostly because our main competitors are Ontario and B.C. British Columbia has a rebate for their carbon tax and Ontario’s got a cap and trade; so that hasn’t cost the greenhouses a whole lot of money. In Alberta we are going to get hit full out.
“We can all pay our fair share of the carbon tax, but don’t make us pay 100 per cent. I think that’s what we’re asking… People all want local food close by, right? This is what we are doing, but we are getting taxed for it.”