High-Grade Wood Going to Nova Scotia Biomass Incinerator

- by Tom Ayer , May 12, 2014, Source: Cape Breton Bureau

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"192","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 189px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","title":"Photo: Erin Pottie, Cape Breton Bureau"}}]]Business owners in Cape Breton who rely on the forest for a living say high-quality hardwoods are making their way into Nova Scotia Power’s biomass plant in Point Tupper, consuming a wood supply that instead should be available for value-added businesses such as flooring and lumber.

David Fraser of BA Fraser Lumber in Margaree Valley, Inverness County, says he is seeing fewer quality saw logs and he blames it on Nova Scotia Power’s policy of getting the most amount of biomass fuel for the cheapest price.

Fraser, who runs a sawmill and is also a contractor who supplies wood to customers, said contractors simply can’t afford to separate quality saw logs from lower-quality stands of wood intended for the biomass plant.

“It is really a problem for us,” he said. “They’re not supposed to be targeting our young stems, but they are and it’s all because of the price.”

Contractors “shouldn’t be taking our good stems and chipping them for that plant.”

Fraser said the biomass plant was a good idea but it has been poorly executed.

He said it was expected to increase the supply of quality logs for lumber by making it economical for contractors to access lower-quality woodlots. While in those stands, contractors were expected to sort the wood and sell the higher-quality logs to sawmills.

“Actually, it’s been the opposite,” Fraser said. “The problem is you’re in there on a tonne basis. You’re really trying to put as many tonnes out on the side of the road as fast as possible to make a profit. In these poor stands, a guy’s saying ‘I’m not hiring a guy to sort out a few logs’.”

Peter Christiano, owner of Finewood Flooring and Lumber in Middle River, Victoria County, says the lack of a guaranteed long-term supply of hardwood is hurting his business.

Christiano needs quality hardwood to make flooring and said the biomass plant’s constant need for low-quality fuel is taking away any incentive woodlot owners and contractors had to gather higher-quality wood.

He said several local producers have simply “opted out of the system, going ‘Why bother? All they want is low-quality wood and it’s not worth it’.”

Mark MacPhail, forestry manager for the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources which oversees First Nation employment in forestry in Cape Breton, said he has seen some high-quality saw logs being sent to the biomass plant.

“It wasn’t a large amount of wood, like maybe a couple of truckloads out of a job that had hundreds of truckloads,” he said.

“In my experience, I don’t see it at a high rate.”

MacPhail, too, said the problem is the price being paid for biomass fuel.

“With the rates being paid, it’s often not worth a contractor’s time to separate the grades,” he said.

Brent MacInnis, owner of Hugh MacInnis Lumber in Frenchvale, Cape Breton County, said there are relatively fewer good quality hardwood trees on the east side of Cape Breton Island and he is not aware of saw logs being used for biomass fuel.

A forestry contractor and firewood and pallet producer, MacInnis also said he is not experiencing a lack of wood due to the biomass plant.

However, he said, it’s probable that some quality hardwood is not being sorted properly from low-quality stands and a central sorting yard might make it easier for smaller contractors to sell enough high-quality wood for someone else to arrange shipping.

Bob Bancroft, a biologist and forester from Pomquet, Antigonish County, said clear cutting is not good for the forest, not good for wildlife and ultimately, not good for humans.

In 2008-2009, he was a member of a panel that advised the NDP government against allowing biomass fuel to be used for power generation.

“I don’t believe it’s a wise use at all,” Bancroft said.

He said the Nova Scotia government has allowed corporate interests to take over the forests in the name of saving jobs at the Port Hawkesbury pulp and paper mill.

Nova Scotia Power has said the biomass plant would only use material gathered using sustainable practices. It was initially set up to burn waste wood and sawdust and bark left over from sawmills.

Spokeswoman Neera Ritcey said Monday the power company follows “the rules around procurement of biomass and it excludes the use of high-value wood, and we ensure our suppliers meet that requirement.”

She said Nova Scotia Power conducts one or two audits a week on top of field inspections and audits that suppliers conduct to ensure the product coming into the biomass plant is waste material.