Regulators hit pause on biomass
A regulatory hearing on Nova Scotia Power Inc.’s application to build a $208-million biomass energy project in Port Hawkesbury has been put on hold pending a review of other renewable energy projects.
The decision was reached Thursday after testimony from John Antonuk of Liberty Consulting Group in Pennsylvania at the provincial Utility and Review Board.
Antonuk, a board consultant, told a hearing in Halifax that there needed to be "a full and fair comparison of alternatives" that would allow the electrical utility to meet provincial renewable energy targets.
Nova Scotia Power applied to the board for a capital work order to build the biomass project in April, the same month it issued a request for proposals for other renewable energy projects.
The deadline for those proposals was July 15.
Antonuk said it didn’t make sense to proceed with the application until there was an opportunity to compare it with the other renewable energy proposals the power company solicited.
"The door to a proper evaluation of alternatives from the perspective of customer interests over the coming decades is just opening. It would be wrong to see this hearing as beginning the process of closing it."
Nova Scotia Power planned to own the biomass plant and NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp. planned to operate it.
The facility, which would use an old NewPage burner valued at $80 million, would burn 650,000 tonnes of wood waste a year to generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
Half the waste wood would come from NewPage’s sawmill and papermaking operations.
The rest would be harvested, with half of that coming from Crown lands under a 25-year deal NewPage negotiated with the province.
Nova Scotia Power and NewPage representatives agreed with board chairman Peter Gurnham’s decision to put off a decision on the plan pending analysis of the other renewable energy proposals.
Critics of the biomass plan argued during four days of hearings that it wouldn’t help reduce greenhouse gases or the burning of coal.
It was also suggested there wasn’t adequate waste-wood supply to feed the system, which might result in increased clearcutting of Nova Scotia’s forests.
On Thursday, the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Sierra Club Atlantic and the Margaree Environmental Association called on Premier Darrell Dexter and Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks to intervene during the hearing process to provide details about provincial forest biomass policy and project regulations.
"The coalition has serious concerns that the (board) does not currently have a clear policy mandate from the government of Nova Scotia to adequately rule on the use of forest biomass as part of meeting the province’s ambitious renewable electricity targets," the coalition of environmental groups said.
The coalition said it shared "significant scientific concerns" about the carbon neutrality of large-scale forest biomass as a source for renewable electricity and asked that the biomass proposal be put on hold until the province’s natural resources strategy is complete in the fall or early next year.