Burning Forests Only Adds Carbon to the Air | Ecology Action Centre

Burning Forests Only Adds Carbon to the Air

Burning Forests Only Adds Carbon to the Air

April 7, 2010

RE NSPI’s $200 million investment in NewPage Forest Biomass Energy

NewPage and NS Power Inc’s proposal for a 60 megawatt forest biomass energy facility has little to do with reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere.  The Ecology Action Centre suggest that Emera Inc.’s (NS Power Inc) proposed $200 million investment of rate-payers’ money could be more wisely spent.

“Trees are a carbon-intensive energy source” says Jamie Simpson, forester with the Ecology Action Centre.  “Even if we replace coal with wood, we are actually increasing our carbon emissions into the atmosphere for at least the next 80 years, and likely for much longer.  It would only get close to being carbon neutral if we reduced the province’s overall harvest of other forest products by an equal amount.”

For every unit of energy produced, industrial wood-burning puts roughly 17% more CO2 into the atmosphere than coal, and 53% more than natural gas, according to Environment Canada.  Also, numerous scientific studies show that clearcutting generally reduces carbon storage in forests, both by reducing the age of forests and by accelerating the decomposition of organic matter stored in forest soil.

Janice Ashworth of the Nova Scotia Sustainable Electricity Alliance (www.novasea.ca) suggests “instead of spending $200 million of ratepayers dollars on this intensive biomass project, the Utility should spend that money on carbon-reducing, community-based renewable electricity that will disperse the economic benefits to rural communities around the province.”

Proponents of forest biomass energy suggest that biomass is a carbon ‘lean’ fuel source because trees will grow to replace the ones that are cut. 
“However,” says Simpson “if we increase our provincial annual harvest rate tomorrow by 400,000 tonnes of trees and burn them, that carbon is going straight into the atmosphere.  It will take some 80-100 years for the forest to regain that lost carbon.  And if we damage the productivity of the forest, we have a net loss of carbon that will take centuries to regain.”

“Forests are good at storing carbon.  That’s what they do, if we let them.”

“The bottom line,” says Simpson, “is that we can meet our renewable energy requirements without resorting to large-scale forest biomass.  Growing short-rotation woody crops on marginal farmland, if done properly, makes much more sense from a carbon storage and forest health perspective.”

“Public forests, such what NewPage is operating on, should be managed for their many societal and ecological benefits: carbon storage, biodiversity, valuable products, tourism, employment etc.  From a biodiversity and carbon point of view, it makes no sense to burn them for electricity.”

A recent article in the journal Science pointed out the flaw in the idea that forest biomass is carbon-neutral: “The potential of bioenergy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions inherently depends on the source of the biomass and its net land-use effects…. harvesting existing forests for electricity adds net carbon to the air.” (Searchinger, T.D. et al. 2009. Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error. Science 326: 527-528.)


Jamie Simpson, Forestry Program Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, 429 1335
Janice Ashworth, novaSEA Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, 442-0199