Environmentalist calls for reduction in biomass use to generate electricity

OTTAWA - The Ecology Action Centre's senior wilderness coordinator is calling on the Nova Scotia government to reduce the use of biomass to generate electricity now that more hydroelectric power is flowing into the province.

In 2020, the government of the day signed a directive for Nova Scotia Power to burn more wood chips, waste wood and other residuals from the forest industry to generate electricity. At the time, power from Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador was not flowing into the province at high enough levels to reach provincial targets for electricity generated by renewable resources.

In recent months, however, the Maritime Link from Muskrat Falls has delivered Nova Scotia's full share of electricity, and, in some cases, even more.

Ray Plourde with the Ecology Action Centre said that should be enough to end the 2020 directive.

Ray Plourde is senior wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. (CBC)
Biomass is "bad on a whole lot of levels," said Plourde, including its affects on biodiversity and the release of carbon into the atmosphere, he said. The province's reliance on waste wood as a source of fuel for electricity should be curbed, said Plourde.

"It's highly inefficient," he said. "It's the most expensive electricity on the grid for ratepayers."

A spokesperson for the provincial Natural Resources and Renewables Department said that although the Maritime Link has "at times" delivered adequate electricity to Nova Scotia, "it hasn't done so consistently."

"These delays and high fossil fuel prices mean that biomass remains a small but important component of our renewable energy mix," Patricia Jreiga said in an email.

But to Plourde, that explanation doesn't wash.

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board recently ruled that Nova Scotia Power could begin recouping costs of the Maritime Link project from ratepayers. As for the rising cost of fossil fuels, Ploude noted that the inefficiency of biomass means there's no deal to be had using it as a fuel source.

"Honestly, that sounds like a lot of obfuscation," he said of the government's position.

No update on district heating plans
At the time of the directive, government officials said the increased use of forestry byproducts at biomass plants in Point Tupper and Brooklyn, N.S., would provide a market for businesses struggling to replace the loss of Northern Pulp as a customer. Brooklyn Power has been offline since a windstorm damaged that plant in February, however. Repairs are expected to be complete by the end of the year or early 2023.

Ploude said a better use for waste wood products would be small-scale district heating projects.

Although the former Liberal government announced six public buildings to serve as pilot sites for district heating in 2020, and a list of 100 other possible buildings that could be converted to wood heat, there have been no updates.

"Currently, we're working with several other departments to complete technical assessments for additional sites and looking at opportunities for district heating, but no decisions have been made yet," provincial spokesperson Steven Stewart said in an email.


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