Close to 100 people packed into the Mahone Bay Centre on November 18 to discuss the sustainability of biomass energy.
The panel discussion, organized by the South Shore chapter of the Council of Canadians, included Mary Jane Rodger, general manager of the Medway Community Forest Co-op, forest biologist Bob Bancroft, and Richard Pearson, president and CEO of Bridgewater Renewable Energy Works.
Biologist says 'unsustainable'
Bancroft's opinion was clear from the get go – too much clearcutting has already taken place in Nova Scotia and it's not sustainable.
"The impact of this industrial strength forestry, is it's too tough on the land, it doesn't recover, it doesn't grow the same kind of trees back when it's been flattened like this," he said.
Biomass, said Bancroft, is not a sustainable way of creating energy either and is less efficient than coal.
According to Bancroft, it takes four times as many wet wood chips to produce as much energy as one tonne of coal does, information he cited from studies by Mary Booth, director of Partnership for Policy Integrity (PPI) in the United States.
During his presentation, he discussed the acidification of soil, an issue that is particularly problematic in South West Nova, where some of the worst soils in the province exist in Queens and Shelburne counties.
Bancroft also took aim at WestFor Management Inc.
"Our government has taken 1.4 million acres of public land and given the stewardship and the management of that land over to a consortium of pulp companies and other companies called WestFor," he said.
Westfor is made up of 13 shareholder forestry companies, mainly sawmills, that has a lease with the government for over 400,000 hectares of mostly former Bowater lands, which were later turned over to the Crown.
Marcus Zwicker, manager of Westfor, spoke out during the question period, saying only 0.4 per cent of harvests are for biomass plants because there is no market for pulp used for biomass.
After the panel, Zwicker told LighthouseNOW that right now it's a difficult market for everyone involved in the industry.
"We're facing the same problems as these community forests and private wood producers," he said.
Difficulties in marketing
Marketing and where to sell wood was an issue discussed by Rodger, who said, "we had such a hard time meeting our annual allowable cuts and a lot of that has to do with the pulp market being so poor."
The co-op manages 15,000 hectares of former Bowater lands in Annapolis County. The idea of a community forest is to give the community direct management over a resource, resulting in better governance.
The group has also faced its share of hardships, particularly after a portion of the land they manage was destroyed in forest fires this summer.
The group is experimenting with types of clear cuts, said Rogers, but she disagrees with whole tree harvesting and doesn't believe that parts of the forest, such as 30-year-old stands, should be used for biomass. When harvesting, the co-op leaves branches, leaves, and other matter behind to go back into the soil.
"You have to be looking at things on a longer term," she said.
She also takes issue with the province's agriculture conversion clause.
"Where forestry companies can come in or woodlot owners can say their land is being converted into a blueberry field but it's really not and then they can make no wildlife requirements," she said.
The co-op is coming into its third year of its pilot project and is looking at partnering with other types of commercial activity, partially because they are struggling to move pulp wood.
Waste not, want not
One of the businesses the co-op is looking at is Bridgewater Renewable Energy Works, a new energy facility that has set up shop next to the NSCC Lunenburg Campus. Rodger believes the plant is more efficient and environmentally friendly than other methods.
The plant mainly operates using residuals, such as bark from Freeman's Lumber Mills in North Queens. Pearson says only the remains of trees, after they've already been used for lumber or other products, should be used in biomass plants.
"That's what we're about, taking a very sustainable look at the forest, working with people like Medway Community Forest, to acquire... our bio resources," he said.
Pearson says the plant is approaching "zero waste" and exhaust helps heat the NSCC campus in the winter.
The plant is small in comparison to other plants and generates just 3.2 megawatts of energy as opposed to a plant like Brooklyn Energy that can generate nearly 30. Most wind turbines in the province generate around 2.35.
The plant is part of the COMFIT project and has a 20-year power purchase agreement with the province. It sells power to the grid for 17 cents per kilowatt.
The company buys the bark or residue for roughly 60 dollars per tonne. It also tries only to purchase from a catchment area of a little over 100 kilometres in radius to keep things as sustainable as possible.