B.C. greenhouses face steep heating bills after pipeline explosion

Costs skyrocketed after the blast choked off natural gas supplies.

Some Langley greenhouse owners are getting hammered by sharp increases in natural gas prices caused by the pipeline explosion near Prince George.

“It’s brutal,” said Lawrence Jansen, CEO of Darvonda Nurseries.

In early October, Darvonda was paying about $3.50 per gigajoule of natural gas.

But after the Oct. 9 pipeline blast, the supply to the Lower Mainland was reduced. While Fortis encouraged homeowners to take shorter showers and to turn down their thermostats, some greenhouses saw energy prices skyrocket.

Within a day, the price at the Northwest Sumas gas hub had shot up to more than $10 per gigajoule. In late November, it was above $25 on several days, and on Nov. 16 it was $86.70.

Darvonda bought gas at lower, “interruptible” rates, which means they were vulnerable to sudden shifts in price.

That has meant some major changes for Darvonda and some other local nurseries.

READ MORE: B.C.’s natural gas supply could see 50% dip through winter due to pipeline blast

At Darvonda, a four-acre greenhouse full of cucumber plants should have been harvested for a week and a half more. But the gas price made it too unprofitable, and Jansen said they shut it down, losing about 50,000 cucumbers.

“We had to move a lot of our plants to a different facility, that has fixed [natural gas] rates,” Jansen said.

Local natural gas, “downstream” of the pipeline rupture, has had to come through a 30 inch, older pipeline instead of a 36 inch pipeline, said David Grewal of Absolute Energy.

“That has constrained supply significantly,” he said.

The huge price spike on Nov. 16 was caused by maintenance on the pipeline.

It’s simply a bottleneck in supply, said Grewal.

Darvonda has also reduced heat in the greenhouse where its poinsettia plants are waiting to be shipped out to stores, and at its annual GLOW seasonal light show.

“We’re amazed at how fragile the whole system is,” said Jansen.

Even greenhouses that don’t rely on natural gas for heating are feeling the impacts second-hand.

“The month of November has been mild enough that our biomass boilers have been enough,” said Leo Benne of Bevo Farms.

Bevo supplies new seedling plants for many other greenhouses, and Benne said their clients are seeing shortened growing periods, or considering starting crops later.

That could affect Bevo – some clients are looking into when they’ll order their plants in the new year.

“So far, we’re making it work,” said Benne.

Meanwhile, Darvonda is still growing tomatoes and planning for next year. It’s tempting to switch to buying gas at locked-in prices, but buyers can’t switch immediately, Jansen said.

For now, they’re using as little natural gas as possible.

“We’re probably using less than half what we would normally use,” he said.

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