Forest Biomass Energy – Where do we go from here? | Ecology Action Centre

Forest Biomass Energy – Where do we go from here?

An aerial view of the Northern Pulp biomass harvest site.

December 19, 2009

Nova Scotia’s NDP government commissioned Dr. David Wheeler, past Dean of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University, to provide a strategy to reach the province’s goal of 25% renewable energy by 2015. 

Dr. Wheeler’s Interim Renewable Energy Strategy, released December 15th, contains a wealth of sensible, progressive recommendations for Nova Scotia’s path forward in meeting its 2015 renewable energy goals.

However, Dr. Wheeler’s strategy offers a place for large-scale forest biomass energy, up to 70 megawatts by 2015, and an additional 70 MW by 2020.

Dr. Wheeler states that we must ensure the ecological integrity of our forests before proceeding with any biomass harvesting.  What preconditions would ensure we do not sacrifice the health of our forests for a bit of relatively inexpensive energy?  Here are our recommendations:

  1. Ensure that whole-tree harvesting is not an acceptable forestry practice.  This could be done by modifying the existing Wildlife Habitat and Watercourse Protection Regulation under the Forests Act.
  2. Set a province-wide target to reduce clearcutting in Nova Scotia (by area) in half by 2015, or to 250km2 per year from the current level of approximately 500km2.
  3. Adopt a cap on the overall amount of forest harvesting.

Is it sensible to move forward with 70 MW of forest biomass energy by 2015?  We do not think so.  Nova Scotia is not ready to add a massive increase in harvesting to our already stressed forest.  In the absence of new rules controlling clearcutting, the 70 MW goal could result in an additional 100 square kilometres of clearcutting every year – the equivalent to clearcutting land the size of Kejimkujik National Park every four years.

We stress that there is, unfortunately, no “gold standard” of forestry practice that could allow a significant amount of new harvesting, for biomass or any other product, to be done in an ecological responsible manner.  We cannot envision a “win-win” scenario for the forest if Nova Scotia attempts to generate anywhere near 70MW from burning trees.

Our forests have already been severally degraded in terms of the abundance, diversity and health of both trees and wildlife.  We have less than 1% old growth forest left in Nova Scotia, an ever-growing list of endangered species and ever-shrinking fragments of habitat for wild species to survive in.  How much more can the wildlife species that are trying to survive in what’s left of them take?

We believe it is unrealistic to assume the scale of forest biomass proposed in the report can be harvested in an ecologically sustainable manner.  A gold standard for forest biomass in the province would require provincial goals and regulations in advance of harvesting, in addition to a reduction in the total scale cutting proposed.