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South Shore chapter holds public forum on biomass energy

Panelists Mary Jane Rodger, Bob Bancroft, and Richard Pearson

The Council of Canadians South Shore chapter held a “Clear-Cut Question: Is Biomass Energy Sustainable?” public forum on November 18.

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.”

South Shore chapter activist Charlene Morton tells us, “Almost a hundred people came out on a rainy night to hear three experts speak about the problems and solutions associated with contemporary biomass operations in Nova Scotia. The event featured Mary Jane Rodger, the general manager of Medway Community Forests Co-Op, which promotes sustainable forestry practices; Bob Bancroft, a founding member of the Healthy Forests Coalition; and Richard Pearson, business co-owner of Bridgewater Renewable Energy Works, which is proposing a small biomass operation for the local Nova Scotia Community College campus.”

Morton adds, “Most in the audience have experienced or seen the destruction of woodlands and are very sensitive about the impact on soil health, wildlife habitat, watersheds, and resource-based livelihoods. They have also witnessed the Nova Scotia government’s ‘green-washing’ of biomass operation at the large Port Tupper site. So they came with pointed questions: Should we be develop biomass systems if we are not sure that the wood residuals are coming from sustainably managed and healthy woodlots? How efficient can the proposed Bridgewater plant operate if the generated heat is not needed for five months of the year? What kind of funding and regulations need to be in place to ensure the success of community forests?”

The proposed Bridgewater biomass project would reportedly require 100 tonnes of wood a day. Pearson has stated, “That’s three truckloads, essentially 36,000 tonnes a year. Location is a very positive attribute for this project. It’s literally a few hundred feet from the substation behind the community college, and thermal customers are clustered nearby, minimizing capital and disruption costs. There’s a local abundant renewable source of biomass including underutilized forestry residual fibre, sawdust, bark shreds and some underutilized species that aren’t used for the pulp and paper industry and aren’t used for saw logs.”

The Point Tupper facility falls under the worse case scenario of a biomass plant. About 50 trucks a day deliver wood to that facility and almost 2,800 hectares of forest are cut every year to be burned for electricity at this plant. 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.”

Morton concludes, “The event finished at 9 pm but many people lingered to continue the conversation, underlining how passionate people are about the need to improve the health of our forests. Because our forests, soil health and general woodland ecosystems are in crisis and will take years to restore, renewable biomass energy will be a point of contention for the Nova Scotia government going into the 2017 provincial election year.”

As Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow highlights in her new book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, “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.”