Nova Scotia Power will use more biomass to generate electricity for the next three years, under regulatory changes by the province that are angering environmentalists and being lauded by the forestry industry.
The changes to renewable electricity regulations in the Electricity Act that were announced Monday call for the utility to purchase 135,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy in 2023, 2024 and 2025, which is all but certain to come from biomass. Previously, there was no required amount.
A spokesperson for the utility said it is equivalent to approximately 3.6 per cent of the total renewable energy that will be supplied to customers in 2022.
The news comes as Emera, the parent company of Nova Scotia Power, expects the Brooklyn Energy biomass-fuelled power plant to be repaired and operational again by the end of January, almost a year after the site was damaged.
‘It’s a farce’
“This is just a really terrible announcement for the environment,” said the Ecology Action Centre’s Ray Plourde.
“It’s a disaster for the atmosphere and it’s a disaster for biodiversity.”
Plourde pointed to a recent decision by the government of Australia to no longer consider electricity generated by biomass as renewable energy. The problem with considering it a renewable resource, he said, is that such a view is based on the notion that the greenhouse gasses produced by burning biomass will someday be absorbed by future trees.
“It’s a farce,” said Plourde.
“It’s a sick joke at a time when we need real climate solutions.”
But Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said biomass is a resource that can be used at a time when fossil fuel prices remain volatile, until more wind and solar projects are ready to come online.
Rushton said sawmills around the province have lots of wood chips and other byproducts from forestry operations that can be used to meet the new requirements. It also provides a destination for waste wood still in forests following post-tropical storm Fiona, said Rushton.
Helping fill renewables gap
The regulations prohibit cutting whole trees to generate electricity and only allow products left over from sustainable timber harvest and primary processing to be used.
“What I see is a renewable resource that we have sitting in our province right now, with biomass that can certainly assist Nova Scotia Power with meeting their renewable targets,” Rushton said in an interview.
Nova Scotia Power is required to generate at least 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, although that has been a challenge because of delays getting the full amount of power from Labrador via the Maritime Link. The utility is required to hit 80 per cent renewable-generated electricity by 2030.
Stephen Moore, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, said the requirement is good news for his members.
A boost for industry
Moore said the organization has been petitioning the government to find new markets for the glut of byproducts sitting in mill yards and the waste wood that remains in the forests following Fiona.
“There is certainly a substantial amount of this stuff sitting around the province right now,” he said.
It’s too soon to know how much wood will be required to meet the new regulations, but Moore said it’s a “crucial move” that would provide a strong foundation for the sector as it continues to look for new markets. He noted that practising ecological forestry produces byproducts that need to go somewhere.
But Plourde said it would be better for the environment if those materials were put toward making pressboard or biochar, or used for district heating, which is more efficient than burning biomass to generate electricity.
Rushton understands the practice is controversial, but there is a worldwide energy crunch related to fossil fuels and that needs to be considered while transitioning to cleaner fuel sources, he said..
Whether biomass will be required to generate electricity beyond 2025 remains to be seen, but Rushton said that conversation will happen.
“I think you see that with having the window put in there,” he said.
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