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Inverness County chapter concerned about biomass facility

Point Tupper biomass facility. Photo by Canadian Biomass.

The Council of Canadians Inverness County chapter is concerned about the Point Tupper biomass facility in Cape Breton.

Biomass is a process in which electricity is generated through the burning of wood.

The concerns being raised by the chapter include the cutting and burning of mature trees (rather than scrap wood) for the facility, and that biomass can result in a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

The Chronicle Herald reports, “Nova Scotia Power owns the biomass plant. It is annexed to the mill owned by Port Hawkesbury Paper LP, which pays for steam drawn from the plant but not for electricity generated at the plant.”

Another Chronicle Herald article has noted, “According to Nova Scotia Power, half the boiler’s needs are fed by wood waste from Port Hawkesbury Paper, sawmills and other woods operations. That leaves about 335,000 green tonnes that are cut to feed it. A rough industry average in northern Nova Scotia is that you get about 120 tonnes of wood fibre off a hectare. Divide 335,000 tonnes by 120 and you get 2,792 hectares getting cut every year for the foreseeable future to be burned for electricity in a furnace that works at about 74 per cent efficiency.”

About 50 trucks per day deliver wood to the facility.

And CBC explains, “While Nova Scotia has increased the amount of wood being harvested to supply a 60 megawatt boiler in Port Hawkesbury that came online 2.5 years ago, …no one is tracking the impact it has on carbon emissions.”

A December 2015 report by the East Coast Environmental Law Association says, “While the simple ‘burn a tree, grow a tree’ formula may seem intuitively sound, research is showing that in many cases, cutting and burning trees for electricity actually increases net carbon emissions for at least several decades, and sometimes for over a century.” CBC adds, “The study goes on to say under ‘best-case scenarios’, with less clearcutting and highly-efficient burning of biomass, the carbon debt can be repaid in 10 to 20 years — after which emissions of carbon dioxide begin to decrease. Under ‘worst-case scenarios’ — involving intensive forest harvesting and the inefficient use of biomass — the carbon debt will not be repaid for over a century.”

The Point Tupper biomass facility falls under the worst case scenario.

Biomass, when kept at a sustainable scale, can be an ideal way to generate power by using wood scrap (bark, wood chips and sawdust) that would otherwise be seen as waste. But increasingly industrial-scale logging specifically for the purpose of biomass appears to be on the increase. The Digital Journal has reported, “Especially troubling is the finding that Canadian biomass exports to Europe have increased roughly 700 per cent in the past eight years. And in Nova Scotia, for example, a province on Canada’s east coast and well positioned for biomass shipments to Europe, logging specifically for the purposes of biomass export has begun.”

The East Coast Environmental Law Association report Forest Biomass Energy Policy in the Maritime Provinces: Accounting for Science can be read here.