Sask. greases wheels for biofuel project funding

Biofuel processing projects in Saskatchewan will have an easier time of getting funding under changes made to the provincial Biofuels Investment Opportunity (SaskBIO) program, the province announced Monday.

The changes allow an “eligible community investor” to mean anyone living and doing business in Saskatchewan, rather than anyone living within a 100-km radius of a proposed project.

They also allow for just 20 per cent investment by communities and farmers to get the maximum provincial funding, compared to 50 per cent previously.

SaskBIO’s minimum contribution per litre of biofuel produced also now increases, from two cents to five cents.

“Saskatchewan is now facing a different investmentĀ  climate since the announcement of the SaskBIO program in June 2007,” said Judie Dyck, president of the Saskatchewan Biofuels Development Council, in a council release on Monday.

“Investors are looking for tools to address current capital costs. The price of a barrel of oil reached a record US$101.32 last week, which is a key driver of biofuels opportunities despite recent rises in feedstock costs,” said Dyck, whose group represents biofuel processors. “These changes to SaskBIO provide greater flexibility for the biofuel projects to access to dollars in the provincial program and maximize equity for projects.”

The four-year, $80 million SaskBIO program provides repayable contributions of up to $10 million per project to build or expand transportation biofuel production facilities in Saskatchewan.

Even with significant public funds on offer for projects with a community and/or farmer investment component, several biofuels projects on the drawing board on the Canadian Prairies are now reported to be spinning their wheels at the planning stage, awaiting investors.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz publicly chastised grain growers earlier this month for what he described in the press as their short-sightedness in using this year’s high grain prices as a reason to back away from biofuel investments.