Biomass power plan splits stakeholders

NOVA SCOTIA - The forestry industry and environmentalists are at loggerheads in anticipation of a report on how Nova Scotia can expand its renewable sources of energy.

The government-commissioned study will recommend the province turn to biomass fuel sources — in particular, waste wood — as it aims to double the amount of green power it produces over the next half-decade.

Burning biomass has been used for heat and electricity in Europe for years and, on a small scale, in many Canadian provinces.

David Wheeler, dean of the faculty of management at Dalhousie University and leader of the consultation team producing the study, said biomass will help the province achieve its goal of generating a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

In an interim report released earlier this month, Wheeler said biomass would generate about 15 per cent of that renewable energy in the short term, with large-scale and community wind farms eventually contributing the rest.

Nova Scotia Power says burning sawdust and wood chips would allow it to displace 10 per cent of the coal in its power plants, enough to generate 70 megawatts of electricity.

Biomass, if implemented in a sustainable way, is considered a carbon-neutral energy source, because all the carbon dioxide released from burning fuel was once and will again be captured by plants as they grow.

Nevertheless, environmentalists and the forestry industry are divided over the consultants' plan.

Kermit deGooyer of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre said acquiring all the needed wood would ultimately be unsustainable.

"We'd be looking at clear-cutting an equivalent amount of land to the size of [Kejimkujik National Park] every four years, which is just astounding, the scale of this proposed project."

Jim Verboom of Verboom Grinders, a Truro company that turns scrub wood into wood chips to burn, disagreed.

"Seventy megawatts would be the equivalent of one-eighth of one per cent of the forest area of Nova Scotia," Verboom said. "We have 400,000 hectares, 10 times the size of Kejimkujik, in Nova Scotia that's old farm fields with dead and dying trees on them."

The government's consultants say implementing biomass is essential if the province is to keep electricity rate increases to no more than two per cent per year.


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