Biomass Energy Drives Wood Shortage in Nova Scotia

-  Rachel Brighton, October 10, 2014, The Chronicle Herald

[More evidence of biomass energy competing for limited wood source.]

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"302","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"271","style":"width: 333px; height: 188px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: thechronicleherald.ca","width":"480"}}]]Opening up long-term access to western Crown lands will relieve some of the pressure that has been building in the forestry sector this year.

This week the province announced that 16 sawmills and manufacturers had been granted 10-year allocations on the former Bowater lands and other Crown land west of Highway 101.

Many sawmills had been crying out for this Crown access since late 2012, when the province acquired the assets of the defunct Bowater Mersey Paper Co.,including its vast tracts of timberlands in the southwest of the province.

This spring the province granted temporary access to these lands to 12 sawmills and two other players in the forestry industry: Louisiana-Pacific Canada Ltd., which produces hardboard siding in Lunenburg County, and Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp.

Emera Energy, which operates a biomass plant in Brooklyn that produces electricity for Nova Scotia Power Inc., was also allowed to harvest on Crown land this year, under a separate agreement with the province.

The new allocations secure access for mostly the same group of mills that gained the spring licences, but with a few left out and a few more added. Northern Pulp’s access to western Crown land has also been assured for the next decade.

Alongside these allocations, the province has a separate Crown land agreement with Port Hawkesbury Paper LP.

As well, Nova Scotia Power has become a significant buyer of biomass, through independent contractors, to feed its power plant in Point Tupper.

The allocations conclude a year in which there has been acute price competition for firewood and low-grade hardwood, spiked by expanding demand for biomass at Nova Scotia Power’s Point Tupper plant and, as some sawmills and contractors maintain, by Northern Pulp’s acquisition of hardwood pulpwood.

There has also been a logjam in getting wood out of the forest into the market, caused in part by a major contraction in the number of forestry contractors and truckers.

Some households felt the force of these market factors this year, when the price for firewood shot up after last year’s heavy winter. Some firewood suppliers told me their customers were hoarding wood for fear of a shortage, making the problem worse.

The other constraint in the market is the reluctance of private woodlot owners to have their land harvested at the low stumpage rates offered by the pulp and paper mills and now also by Nova Scotia Power’s contractors, who are supplying biomass.

As a result of all these forces, plus the fact that more lands are now under provincial protection, there is growing pressure on the currently available supply of timber.

More pressure is building as sawmills, independent energy producers and manufacturers consider using biomass to generate steam and electricity for existing operations or as material for making wood pellets for export. A variety of such projects are in the works and may add to demand for forest fibre, albeit modestly.

A key question is whether silviculture funding and services will also expand to replenish the timber supply as harvesting resumes on the old Bowater lands.