Morning sun. A dumptruck. A pile of poo.
The moment when ZooShare stuck shovels in that pile this week, signifying the start of work on its Scarborough biogas plant, was six years in the making.
Delayed by the dozens of required permits and assorted red tape, members of the co-operative stuck to their dream and raised more than $3 million.
Finally, ZooShare gets their 500-kilowatt plant at the Toronto Zoo, a pioneering idea which will stop 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year from escaping to the atmosphere.
By early 2017, it should be turning 3,000 tonnes of zoo animal manure and 14,000 tonnes of unwanted grocery store produce into power and fertilizer.
“It was an easy dream to grab hold of,” Paul Ungerman, ZooShare’s board chairperson, told an audience Tuesday, April 19, in a tent pitched on one of the zoo’s overflow parking lots.
He saw the co-op’s membership grow from six to 600, as ZooShare, which first approached the zoo in 2010, slowly secured a lease from the zoo and a 20-year deal to feed power to Ontario’s electricity grid.
“It’s hard, dirty work, especially when poo is involved,” joked Ungerman, who also thanked the non-profit company’s many bond-holders.
“It’s not often an easy choice to invest with your heart, but we’re really glad you made it.”
Billed as North America’s first zoo-based biogas plant (the Detroit Zoo is trying to build its own biodigester, using only zoo manure), ZooShare is backed by people who see it as educational opportunity, as well as a green energy source.
“We really believe it’s the way of the future,” Ron Seftel, CEO of Bullfrog Power, an early investor.
The zoo, which will get $50,000 a year from the ZooShare or 10 per cent of the profits, educates its visitors on the threats posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. The biogas plant off Meadowvale Road perfectly fits the zoo’s strategy of turning itself into a conservation centre of excellence, said Raymond Cho, chairperson of its management board.
Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli also congratulated ZooShare, saying the plant was part of a province-wide shift to renewable energies.
“You’re showing leadership, you’re showing excitement for the community, you’re giving new life to the zoo,” he said.
Later, Chiarelli said the process of applying for a Feed-In Tariff to sell power to the grid in Ontario “is very technical and complex.”
Asked how applying to build other biogas plants could be made easier, Chiarelli said little except that the zoo and ZooShare supporters deserve lots of credit.
“It’s just a win-win-win all around,” he added.
Construction of the plant, which will occupy an acre not far from the Pearse House and a well-known entrance to Rouge Park, will begin in June.
The zoo has had a composting operation on the ZooShare site, once part of the Beare Road landfill, since the 1980s.
Open-air composting was done with long windrows which had to be turned, and at one time bags of “zoo poo” fertilizer were popular items, said Dr. Bill Rapley. the zoo’s executive director for conservation, education and wildlife.
Soon, instead of methane from manure rising to the sky, it will be used to make power in the anaerobic digester, he said.
Not all zoo manure is suitable - the plant might not use anything from carnivores - but zebras, rhinos, and other large animals will supply plenty.
Trucks from grocery stores will deliver the rest of the plant’s raw material.
“You end up with this product that is absolutely excellent for the garden,” Rapley said.
“There’s so much we can do to have a more sustainable world. And that’s a big thing for us.”