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What? Burning the forest creates ‘green’ energy?

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Timber Procurement


CAN SOMEONE please explain how you can tear down millions of trees, burn them in a furnace and claim what comes out of it is "green energy"? Because that is what NewPage Port Hawkesbury and Nova Scotia Power Inc. want to do.

NewPage, with the province’s blessing, wants to strip millions of trees from the land, truck them to its plant and throw them in the fire. They’re calling it green power, something NSPI needs to meet renewable energy standards.

It’s biomass. Can something that sounds so nice really be bad? Anything "bio" is good, right? And it’s not scary nuclear, greasy oil or nasty old coal. When people think biomass, they think green.

And it probably is greenish when plants use the waste from their paper-making operations to generate electricity. But NewPage wants to go way beyond that.

NewPage proposes to harvest hundreds of thousands of tonnes of so-called "low-grade hardwood" every year to add to its plant waste. A related company will run the steam boilers and the generating plant, creating jobs in the woods and 60 megawatts of electricity to sell to NSPI.

This is great news if you’re a woodlot owner or a tree harvester. Your job will be supported. It’s also pretty good news if you’re a shareholder of Ohio-based NewPage, which is getting a sweet deal from all Nova Scotians.

That’s because the province is showing its support for the project with clear-cutting rights on Crown lands. The NDP government obviously buys into the idea that jobs will be created in a region where jobs aren’t easy to find.

Premier Darrell Dexter is all for it. His cabinet approved the NewPage proposal because, in the premier’s words, it will "help meet renewable energy targets, create and maintain jobs, all while using sustainable forest practices and protecting Nova Scotia’s wood supply."

NewPage says its proposal has been blessed by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council, two organizations representing industry and environmental groups. So it sounds green.

But contemplate the scale of what’s being proposed for the forests of the northeastern mainland and Cape Breton. Right now, NewPage consumes 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes of wood every year to make paper. Once they fire up the boilers, that figure will skyrocket to 600,000 to 700,000 tonnes a year.

Over 25 years, that’s at least 15 million tonnes of timber, much of which took 30 to 40 years or more to grow. It will all go up in smoke.

The government says it will hold NewPage to strict harvesting conditions on the Crown lands. But according to public documents concerning the proposal, about 200,000 tonnes of wood will come every year from private woodlot operators. Who’s going to police them as they go flat out to feed the furnace?

To maintain its sustainable forestry claim, NewPage says branches and tree tops will be left on the ground, returning organic materials on the Crown land. Only "stem wood" will be harvested. But anyone who has ever seen a clear-cut forest where the stem wood has been taken still sees a barren wasteland, subject to erosion and, for years, devoid of wildlife habitat.

And the true costs are unknown because it’s so hard to put a price on trees. NewPage is already the dominant buyer of harvested trees in northeastern Nova Scotia and this deal would give it even more leverage on prices. Simple economics tells you that if one player dominates a market, that player sets the price. Since there is no real competitive market for trees, NewPage can pretty much dictate its "fuel price" and charge Nova Scotia Power accordingly.

Thankfully, the Utility and Review Board saw through that during hearings last summer and turned down the plan, at least in the form it was proposed. If it goes ahead now, NSPI is going to have to absorb the financial risks.

But what about the risk to the sustainability of our forests? The province and the Dexter government should be defending them, demanding safeguards and limiting harvests. It’s government’s solemn responsibility to defend our natural heritage against degradation from an energy project with only the most dubious claim to being green.

( dleger@herald.ca)

Dan Leger is director of news content for The Chronicle Herald. The opinions expressed here are his own.


Issued by:  The Cronicle Herald



Issue date: November 16, 2009

Link to Article: Origin of this text


Extpub | by Dr. Radut