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Inverness County chapter raises concerns about Point Tupper biomass facility in Cape Breton

The Council of Canadians Inverness County chapter was at the Peace and Friendship Alliance-Nova Scotia gathering that was held this past weekend.

Council of Canadians organizer Angela Giles writes, “Chapter activists Andrea Currie and Catherine Hart raised concerns with forestry practices and the unsustainable NS Power Inc’s biomass plant in their community which burns at 21% efficiency.”

The chapter has been raising concerns about the Point Tupper biomass facility in Cape Breton for several years now.

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.

Nova Scotia Power owns the Point Tupper plant which consumes about 750,000 tonnes of wood a year, about 50 tractor loads of wood per day. Half the biomass plant’s energy is derived from wood waste produced by an adjacent mill (as well as other wood operations), but the other half comes from about 335,000 green tonnes of forest cut to feed it. That’s about 2,792 hectares of forest cut every year.

An East Coast Environmental Law Association report 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.

In November 2011, the Digital Journal reported, “Canadian biomass exports to Europe have increased roughly 700 per cent in the past eight years. In Nova Scotia … logging specifically for the purposes of biomass export has begun.”

The Inverness County chapter held public forums last December and this past March to raise awareness of forestry issues in the province.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “If we continue to destroy and endanger Canada’s forests and wetlands, the burden on our already stressed waterways will grow. Protecting forests means also protecting wetlands, and all levels of government, First Nations and communities must work together to protect, restore and rejuvenate the damaged forests and wetlands of Canada.”