Nova Scotia

With Brooklyn Power offline and no other options, sawmills sit on byproducts

The loss of a power plant on Nova Scotia's South Shore that is fuelled by biomass has left the region's largest sawmill and others scrambling to find somewhere to send wood chips and bark left over from their operations.

Power plant near Liverpool, N.S., that's fuelled by biomass was damaged during wind storm

The Brooklyn Energy plant in Brooklyn, N.S., as seen last December. It's been out of commission since high winds knocked over its stack, damaging it and a warehouse on Feb. 18. (Submitted by Simon Ryder-Burbidge)

The loss of a biomass-fuelled power plant on Nova Scotia's South Shore has left the region's largest sawmill and others scrambling to find somewhere to send wood chips and bark left over from their operations.

Brooklyn Power has been offline since high winds on Feb. 18 knocked over its stack, causing extensive damage to it and a warehouse at the Brooklyn, N.S., site. A spokesperson for Emera, the utilty that operates the plant, has said it will take months to repair the damage.

In the meantime, sawmills that relied on the site to purchase their byproducts to fuel Brooklyn Power's 30-megawatt steam turbine, find themselves without an immediate replacement market.

"We are currently stockpiling these products at our site and plan to keep operating the mill while lumber markets remain strong," Marcus Zwicker, chief operating officer of Freeman Lumber in Greenfield, N.S., said in an email.

Use increased following Northern Pulp closure

Zwicker said Freeman Lumber is one of five sawmills in western Nova Scotia that sell sawmill wood chips to Brooklyn Power and one of nine mills in the province that sell sawmill bark to the plant.

All of Freeman's sawmill bark and 75 per cent of its sawmill residuals were being sold to Brooklyn Power since the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County in January 2020, said Zwicker.

The former Liberal government ordered an increase in the use of biomass at Brooklyn Power and Point Tupper, in part to provide a market for mills following the closure of Northern Pulp and partly because the full block of power from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador was not yet flowing to Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton told reporters last week that it's still too soon to know how long it will take to make the necessary repairs at Brooklyn Power.

Rushton said burning residuals from sawmills is "a key component of what is taking place in the transformation away from Northern Pulp" to a more circular economy for the forest industry in western Nova Scotia.

Key component for mills to operate

With the full Nova Scotia block of power from Muskrat Falls still not online, Rushton said the province must keep its options open while working toward the target of producing 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Although environmentalists have decried the consideration of biomass as a renewable resource, Rushton said the provincial government considers "residuals" from forestry products to be renewable.

"I'm certainly not one that wants to entertain what we've done in years past of cutting a forest down to be producing chips just for the solid purpose of creating electricity," he said.

"I recognize the fact that it's not the most efficient way to produce electricity, but I also recognize the fact that it's a key component [that] that byproduct is going to a market for the mills and the woodlot owners in that area."

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