Top News

Old-growth burning reignites debate

Wood chips are piled up in preparation for burning at Nova Scotia Power’s biomass-burning power generating station at Point Tupper.
Wood chips are piled up in preparation for burning at Nova Scotia Power’s biomass-burning power generating station at Point Tupper. AARON BESWICK • FILE - The Chronicle Herald

Revelations that mature hardwood stands are being cut primarily to supply Nova Scotia Power’s biomass boiler have reignited a long-simmering debate over the burning of biomass to generate electricity.

The Department of Natural Resources acknowledged the potential to The Chronicle Herald on Tuesday, saying some mature hardwood in Guysborough County may include old-growth forest that is being cut and burned to produce electricity in the Point Tupper power plant.

“DNR’s response is pathetic and should be obviously pathetic to the public,” said Wade Prest, a forester from Mooseland who has long been an advocate for sustainable harvesting practices.

As then-vice-president of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, Prest was an intervenor at the Utility and Review Board hearings in 2010 that preceded the opening of the biomass boiler.

“(The biomass boiler) was basically portrayed to the public that the bulk of the supply would be waste material from mills,” said Prest.

“Beyond that, what they said is that any wood supplied from whole trees or forest harvesting would strictly be what was merchantable stems that would come out of forest improvement cutting.”

But independent advocates like Prest, Guysborough harvester Danny George, former provincial biologist Bob Bancroft, Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre, and forest ecologist Donna Crossland all say that’s not what’s happening.

The 60-megawatt power plant at Point Tupperconsumes the equivalent of about 50 tractortrailerloads of wood fibre a day when running at full capacity. However the plant, which is expensive to run, hasn’t been running at full capacity since the province dropped its “must run” designation two years ago.

The plant ran 78 per cent less in 2017 than it did in 2015, according to Nova Scotia Power.

Since October, however, high natural gas prices and demand for electricity have resulted in steadier biomass burning.

Power company spokeswoman Tiffany Chase said that lately about 25 per cent of the plant’s total consumption has come from wood chips, while the rest has been bark and mill waste from sources like the Port Hawkesbury Paper wood yard.

And a Department of Energy spokeswoman said in an email on Friday the electric utility “is also required to buy only from harvesters who adhere to all Department of Natural Resources regulations and requirements, includingsustainable harvest practices/ guidelines.”

“When many of the trees in a tolerant hardwood forest are of poor form and incapable of producing a sawlog now or in the future, such as some of the stands at Loon Lake and Rocky Lake, then stand-improvement harvests focus on removing more of the poorer quality than the good quality so that timber value increases over time,” said JoAnn Alberstat.

“During the harvest process, the emphasis on Crown lands is to produce the highest-value hardwood products for which there is a viable market, such as hardwood sawlogs, studwood and pallet wood. The lesser-quality wood is used for hardwood pulpwood, firewood or wood for energy.”

Port Hawkesbury Paper supplies Nova Scotia Power not only with wood waste, but also with wood chips obtained through direct harvesting.

According to a document provided by the paper mill, of the hardwood it has cut in the area of Guysborough’s Loon Lake Road and that the province has admitted may include old-growth stands, 73 per cent went for fuel wood (biomass), 11 per cent for firewood, eight per cent for hardwood pulp, six per cent for saw logs and a very small amount to make pallets.

Since the biomass boiler opened, two hardwood flooring manufacturers have closed in eastern Nova Scotia — Finewood Flooring of Middle River and Rivers Bend Hardwood of St. Andrews — with the owners citing an inability to access hardwood.

Meanwhile, the only hardwood sawmill remaining, Groupe Savoie in Westville, is down to one shift a week because it can’t access hardwood off Crown land either.

“It’s insane,” said Plourde, the Ecology Action Centre’s wilderness co-ordinator.

“Not only are we attempting to supply Nova Scotia’s biomass needs, we’re allowing our forests to be chipped and sent overseas. Where once we built mighty sailing ships from large and substantial timbers, now our primary product is wood chips.”

Recent Stories