Wood chip systems slated to heat courthouse and college in Bridgewater

by Gayle Wilson

The Nova Scotia government's decision to turn six public buildings over to wood chip heating systems is welcome news for private woodlot owners in Lunenburg and Queens counties who have been impacted by the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.

But Patricia Amero, general manager of Western Woodlot Services Cooperative Ltd., agreed it's a mere nick in a tree to what is needed to help create a sustainable local forest industry through developing a market for low-quality wood.

"That's a good analogy. Definitely it is. It's just very minute. It's piddly," she told LighthouseNOW. According to Amero, "multiple, multiple facilities," both public and private, would need to change over to wood chip heat to address "the glut, the no market" for low-grade wood.

"But, you know, it could be on a path," she added.

"It's kind of a relief to finally see some movement on the government's side in terms of making the conversion to wood heat burners for some of their public buildings."

The province announced on September 28 it had selected four companies to convert fossil fuel heating systems at six public building to new, efficient wood chip heating systems.

The contracts to design, build and operate new boilers include long-term agreements to source wood chips from private woodlots and sawmills.

ACFOR Energy Inc. of Cocagne, New Brunswick will convert the Provincial Court and the NSCC College Lunenburg Campus in Bridgewater.

Mira Forestry Development Limited, Albert Bridge, in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, will change Memorial High School in Sydney Mines and Riverview High School in Sydney.

Charlottetown's Wood4heating Canada, Inc. will convert Perennia Park Atlantic Centre for Agri-Innovation in Bible Hill and Hants East Rural High School in Milford, Hants County.

And Spec Resources Inc. in Church Point, Digby County, will change over the Nova Scotia Community College Centre of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown, Annapolis County.

"These projects help us progress towards a greener economy and reduce the carbon footprint of government buildings by replacing fossil fuels with a renewable resource," Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said in a media release. "Using lower grade wood for heat will create new and stable markets for Nova Scotia's wood chips and opportunities for private woodlot owners and sawmills to sell lower grade wood locally," he added.

The wood heat systems are expected to be in place during this heating season.

"It's definitely a good news thing," Amero told LighthouseNOW. She said, currently, there's a limited to "almost no" market for low-grade wood that results from "forest improvement type of activities for wood owners that manage their land."

However, Amero emphasized that the facilities in Bridgewater will consume only a small amount of low-grade wood, since the systems themselves are highly efficient. "They actually don't require a lot of wood chip fuel, right? So it may be 100 tons for a year." She said just one woodlot under management might produce that, while Northern Pulp had been consuming about a million tons of wood chips in a year.

"So it's not even near enough of what we need. But I mean it is a good start," said Amero.

The Western Woodlot Services Cooperative boasts 216 members in a region stretching from Kings County, Lunenburg County and down to Yarmouth, and will provide the wood for the local projects. Of the total 65,000 acres of woodland the cooperative has under its umbrella, about 37 per cent are in Lunenburg and Queens counties.

Amero is hopeful that once the projects are up and running, and the government can determine the efficiencies involved and gains for the local economy and environment, that it will work toward bringing more public buildings into wood chip heating systems.

For its part, in announcing the projects, the Nova Scotia government indicated it is assessing additional sites to expand the program.

"You know, this could really build into something much larger," suggested Amero.

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