Nova Scotia achieves the worst possible scenario for forest biomass energy
January 26, 2011
by Jamie Simpson and Raymond Plourde
With the recent announcement of new federal government funding of forest biomass projects for Northern Pulp Corporation and Nova Scotia Power Inc., we propose the following question:
“How could the Nova Scotia government design the worst possible biomass energy strategy for our province?”
Here are five criteria such a strategy should meet, and a look at how well the government has done in implementing such a strategy.
1) Go forward with no solid evidence of how much biomass supply is feasibly available.
Result? Done! The provincial government created a regulatory framework to promote 1 million tonnes of new forest biomass harvesting without an honest idea of the feasible, available supply of forest biomass, or the effect of this harvest on our forests and the wildlife populations that depend on them. The Department of Natural Resources has suggested the supply exists and is feasibly available, but has not provided evidence to support their numbers.
2) Burn the forest in the least efficient way possible to generate energy, so that we add to the carbon problem for the foreseeable future instead of reducing it, and burn a lot more trees in the process.
Result? Done! The government failed to specify a minimum efficiency for biomass energy projects, thereby allowing extremely carbon-polluting methods of burning biomass to flourish, while burning far more trees than necessary. All of the proposed major forest biomass projects will actually increase carbon emissions for the foreseeable future.
Increased demand for biomass wood will also drive up the price of firewood for people who heat their homes with wood. Ironically, heating homes (and other buildings) with wood is actually one of the best forms of “biomass” energy, and the Province’s direction will only make it more expensive for those who rely on firewood for heat.
3) Make sure that biomass energy projects are in the hands of foreign-owned forestry corporations and Nova Scotia Power Inc., so that as little of the profits remain in Nova Scotia as possible.
Result? Done! Major forest biomass projects for Nova Scotia are in the hands of NewPage Corp. (Miamisburg, Ohio), Northern Pulp Corp. (Wall Street, New York city), and Nova Scotia Power Inc.
4) Concentrate all of the demand for forest biomass in one geographic region of the province (the region hardest hit by wood shortages and degraded forests).
Result? Done! The major proposed biomass projects in Nova Scotia are in Trenton (central NS), Pictou (central NS), and Port Hawkesbury (eastern NS). The central region of Nova Scotia has the most severe wood shortage problem in the province, followed by the eastern region of Nova Scotia.
5) Favour biomass harvesting over quality-improvement forestry, value-added manufacturing, and affordable firewood for home heating.
Result? Done! Forest biomass is the least valuable “wood product” ever produced in Nova Scotia. Creating a massive new demand for biomass wood, concentrated in the central and eastern regions of Nova Scotia, means much of the forest resource will be reduced to biomass or “hog” fuel to feed biomass boilers for decades to come. Meanwhile, rising costs and shrinking supplies of firewood for home heating is inevitable as this new consumptive wave kicks in.
6) Subsidize forestry companies and Nova Scotia Power Inc. with tax-payer dollars to enable them to burn Nova Scotia’s forests.
Result? Done! To be fair, the province had some help from the Federal government with the recent subsidies of $28.1 million of taxpayer’s money for the Wall Street, New York City based Northern Pulp Corp. and $8.2 million for Nova Scotia Power Inc. As well, the province recently gave Northern Pulp Corp. a $75 million loan to help keep it afloat. Visit www.flickr.com/photos/jamiesimpson and click on “Northern Pulp” for photos of what Northern Pulp does to the forests.
What would be a sensible approach to biomass energy in Nova Scotia? First, introduce a minimum efficiency for biomass projects, at least any that receive taxpayer money, or which qualify for special status under the Renewable Energy Regulations. At present in Nova Scotia, all of the proposed major biomass projects will only exacerbate climate change for decades because they use inherently inefficient technologies that burn a lot of trees for little useable energy. Second, give preference to community based or locally owned biomass energy projects, which would avoid concentrating the pressure on our forests, and would keep money circulating within Nova Scotia.
With a little vision, the NDP government could have created a biomass energy scenario for our province that made sense. Now, it appears that the government has entrenched a biomass energy strategy that will suck money out of our province, inflict hardship on those who heat their homes with wood, and further degrade our forests in the process. The record is clear: Premier Dexter and the NDP have failed Nova Scotia on this account.
Jamie Simpson is the Forestry Program Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre; he’s also the author of Restoring the Acadian Forest: A guide to forest stewardship for woodlot owners in the Maritimes.
Raymond Plourde is a long-time advocate for protected wilderness areas in Nova Scotia, and is Wilderness Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre.