- by Aaron Beswick, May 15, 2014, Source: Truro Bureau

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"193","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 300px; height: 220px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","title":"Photo: Industcards.coom"}}]]Nova Scotia is having trouble keeping up with the requirement for fibre at the biomass boiler at Point Tupper, says the natural resources minister.

“There’s not enough fibre right now in the province to support demands placed on that sector,” Zach Churchill said Thursday, referring to the amount of fibre available on Crown land.

Churchill was responding to questions from reporters about whether hardwood sawlogs are being burned in the boiler to produce electricity rather than going to hardwood sawmills where they could be processed into a higher-value product.

“We’ve been made aware of that,” said Churchill.

He added that he did not believe it to be a common occurrence.

The biomass boiler is expected to consume upwards of 670,000 tonnes of biomass per year when running at peak capacity. A tractor-trailer load of wood fibre weighs about 30 tonnes.

Construction of the facility was started by NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp. to generate 20 megawatts of electricity. The plan was to fire it largely with wood waste that couldn’t go to the company’s two paper machines.

Then Nova Scotia Power purchased it for $80 million and spent $200 million on a new turbine to increase power generation at the facility to 60 megawatts.

Meanwhile, NewPage went bankrupt. When it was reopened by new owner Ron Stern, only one of the paper machines was put back into use, meaning less wood waste is being produced.

It is estimated that the waste from the operating paper machine will only supply about 170,000 tonnes a year.

Contracts to supply about 60 per cent of the biomass plant’s requirements for chipped wood were awarded by Nova Scotia Power to Wagner Forest Management Ltd., an American company that manages about 200,000 hectares of Nova Scotia woodland for its private investors, and Sheet Harbour wood exporter Great Northern Timber, which oversees about 170,000 hectares, primarily in central Nova Scotia.

Whether those two companies are finding it difficult to meet their supply requirements couldn’t be confirmed Thursday.

Churchill pointed to an initiative launched last week by the province to encourage private woodlot owners to make their wood available to be cut.

The Cape Breton Privateland Partnership will have a staff of two based in an office in Port Hawkesbury and an online database of available woodlots and contractors.

About half the province’s woodland is owned privately in small holdings.

It’s not just sawmills that are being starved by the biomass boiler, warned Mike Gillis, manager of Baddeck Valley Wood Producers. It has also been harder for people to get firewood to burn in their stoves, Gillis said Thursday.

His organization sells firewood off private land to about 300 customers, primarily in Victoria County.

“We’re having enough trouble getting enough firewood,” said Gillis.

“We used to get quite a bit from Crown land, but when that plant was announced they began stockpiling it and we haven’t been able to get any since.”