Saturday, July 25, 2009

Biomass my a$$

This is the most disgraceful thing I've heard regarding the environment in quite some time. They claim to do it in the name of reducing carbon emissions and eliminating their use of oil and fossil fuels. Sounds good, right? Except that to do this, they use debris "left over" from cutting down trees. What they mean by that is using machines to scrape up the entire forest floor and leave nothing but a wasteland behind - literally.

This was in the Chronicle-Herald this morning - it is a very disturbing read, but its important to know about these things, so we can hopefully do something about them.

Green power at high cost
Clearcutting for biomass leaves nothing behind

With Jeffrey Simpson, staff reporter
Sat. Jul 25 - 4:46 AM

Little forest debris is left on the ground in the Caribou Gold Mines area near Upper Musquodoboit. The debris is burned to produce electricity. (Photo by KATHY DIDKOWSKY)

Stumps and vegetation left after wood is harvested for lumber and pulp and paper only. (Photo by KATHY DIDKOWSKY)

Kathy Didkowsky grew up discovering streams, lakes and wildlife in the forest behind her house.

Now when she walks through the same wilderness in Upper Musquodoboit that she’s trying to save, Ms. Didkowsky sees more and more bare land.

The forest is being clearcut and for the first time Ms. Didkowsky noticed it’s not just the logs being taken.

"Now with biomass they take everything," said Ms. Didkowsky. "They work with a machine that literally just ripped at the trees, it didn’t cut."

When trees are harvested for pulp and paper, stumps, branches and leaves are left on the ground to decompose and give nutrients back to the soil. When wood is harvested for biomass, a renewable energy source, everything is taken.

"I cried…. It was devastating to me," said Ms. Didkowsky.

Northern Pulp manages about 280,000 hectares across the province, including land near where Ms. Didkowsky grew up.

Bob Bagdon, vice-president of human resources for Northern Pulp, says the company’s been collecting wood waste to use as fuel for years.

"We burn it in our power boiler, which generates electricity that we consume to run the mill," said Mr. Bagdon.

The debris produces enough electricity that the mill in Abercrombie Point near New Glasgow is self-sufficient and doesn’t need to use heavy oil for energy.

Biomass has been at the centre of a hot debate. The Utility and Review Board was asked to approve Nova Scotia Power’s plan to buy electricity generated through burning wood waste from NewPage Port Hawkesbury Ltd. and Strait Bio-Gen.

The untendered $60-million deal would have generated $1-billion worth of electricity over 25 years at the Port Hawkesbury paper mill.

On Wednesday, the Utility and Review Board said it lacked the authority to approve the plan in advance.

Nova Scotia Power doesn’t require board approval to purchase renewable power. It plans to review the board’s 40-page decision before deciding what to do next.

Under the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, the province is supposed to get 18.5 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2013.

"I have real issues. To turn the province into a moonscape to say that we’ve reduced our carbon emission doesn’t appeal to me," said Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell, who pointed out that in opposition the NDP had introduced legislation against clearcutting.

Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said his organization supports renewable energy but would like more emphasis on sources like wind, solar and tidal.

"This province has overcut the forest already," said Mr. Plourde. "How can we add on top of that more hundreds of tonnes of the forest being cut and burned for energy production?"

On Thursday, Premier Darrell Dexter said he thought biomass would be part of a renewable energy solution. Mr. Plourde said his organization isn’t against using biomass and some wood for energy, but does not agree with Nova Scotia Power’s plan.

If it goes through, NewPage Port Hawkesbury will need 400,000 tonnes of biomass cut from the forest every year. Mr. Plourde explained that this would be like having an extra pulp and paper mill in the province, or doubling NewPage’s current wood consumption.

"This is a whole new level — and not a small level, but a massive level — of increased pressure on the forest to produce ever more amounts of fibre."

Mr. Plourde worries that this type of pressure would be devastating to wildlife, especially birds, which are already in steep decline.

"The vast majority of (endangered species) need healthy mature forests and we’re losing them."

Trees are considered renewable energy because they grow back, but Mr. Plourde said the soil has to have nutrients in it for this to happen.

"If you scrape off everything that’s left over after a clearcut, then there’s nothing left … to rot and to help nourish the soil and feed the next generation of trees," he said.

Ms. Didkowsky has seen the area she grew up in change before her eyes — there’s less wildlife, waterways are damaged, the ground has been disturbed by heavy machines, and the land where trees have been removed has been baked dry.

"I would like to see that there was a forest management plan in place and stricter legislation to say that there’s diversity in the species left in the forest, and there’s age diversity."

Mr. Plourde said he doesn’t know of any regulations about clearcutting for biomass. He thinks the government needs to do more for the province’s forests.

"So far, the province has done nothing to actually study the ecological implications of this kind of harvesting," said Mr. Plourde.


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