Hardwood Trees Chipped for Nova Scotia Biomass

- by Roger Taylor, February 26, 2015, Herald Business

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"407","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 444px; height: 251px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Aaron Beswick/Truro Bureau"}}]]Hardwood trees are being allowed to go up in smoke, and with them a number of rural manufacturing jobs that are hard to replace.

It is easy to reach that conclusion after reading stories about several companies in rural Nova Scotia that have been making products from hardwood.

Just recently, the inability to access enough local hardwood was one of the reasons given by the owners of River’s Bend Wood Products Inc. for shutting down their flooring plant.

The factory in rural Antigonish County once employed 17 workers, but that number has been slowly whittled away. Now the remaining 11 employees will lose their jobs at the mill.

River’s Bend is not alone. There is recent history of other makers of flooring products in Nova Scotia shutting down, in part because they could not secure a supply of hardwood.

While there are many reasons why companies go out of business, there is no doubt the supply of quality feedstock has been drying up.

One of the theories is that trees that would normally go into manufacturing wood flooring are being chipped up and hauled to Nova Scotia Power Inc.’s biomass plant in Point Tupper.

Port Hawkesbury Paper LP uses softwood in its papermaking process, but the company also has a deal to manage the supply of fuel for the biomass plant.

Some of that fuel comes from wood waste from the paper manufacturing process, plus many thousands of tonnes of wood fibre cut from the forest, much of which is reported to be hardwood.

In defence of that kind of forestry practice, with workers employed cutting trees for both the paper mill and the biomass plant, it has been argued that there are many fewer wood cutters in the forests than in the recent past.

And because there are fewer lumberjacks, there is little time to devote to finding the right hardwood trees for a few manufacturers that need that kind of product.

It has also been maintained that weeding out the hardwood and other high-quality species desired by the wood manufacturing sector is too time consuming.

The problem may be on the demand side. It might be time for the provincial government to take another look at its rules for biomass power generation, such as easing up on the pressure to produce fuel for the biomass plant by finding other sources.

Some people still question whether the use of biomass really is environmentally friendly because air pollution is created by burning the fuel.

The forest may be a renewable resource, but unlike softwood trees, which grow more quickly, hardwood trees grow slowly and take many years before becoming mature for harvesting.

Biomass is still a big experiment in Nova Scotia. A recent study by the Energy Department shows the cost of producing biomass, “even at commercial scale,” is relatively high, ranging between 13 cents and 17 cents per kilowatt hour.

It is entirely possible that at least one of the biomass plants in the province is too large, requiring enormous amounts of fuel.

Cutting trees is an important source of employment in the province, but if some of that work could be directed toward supplying the manufacturing sector, it has the potential to create and maintain more diverse employment opportunities in rural areas.

And, in the end, isn’t that one of the goals of the Ivany report?