Nova Scotia Power biomass plant not burning high quality wood

Two top bureaucrats in the Department of Natural Resources say quality hardwood is not being used to fuel the biomass plant near Port Hawkesbury.

Department of Natural Resources bureaucrats say Port Hawkesbury plant not to blame for lack of wood

Two top bureaucrats with the Department of Natural Resources say high quality hardwood is not being burned by the biomass plant in Port Hawkesbury. (Jeff Green/CBC)

Two top bureaucrats in the Department of Natural Resources told a legislature committee Wednesday that high quality hardwood is not being burned in Nova Scotia Power's Port Hawkesbury biomass plant.

Deputy minister Frank Dunn said it wouldn't be good business for any woodlot owner to sell valuable hardwood to the generating station.

"You can get more for firewood than you can for biomass," he told the all-party committee. "So if you allow the market to drive the process, private landowners should sell the material that can be firewood, as firewood."

In recent years, some have blamed the biomass plant for a lack of usable wood, but Dunn told politicians the facility is not at fault.

"There are many misconceptions about the biomass plant," he said. "Concerns that they are the reason for many of the things, whether it's a firewood shortage, whether it's the closure of hardwood flooring facilities, the cause for all of this is the biomass plant — it's simply not true." 

Allan Eddy, his associate deputy minister, agreed.

"It's very unlikely that any high amount of quality wood would go that way," he said.

Auditor general's November report 

Both men were called before the committee to respond to questions about the auditor general's examination of the department's efforts to safeguard Nova Scotia's forests. But much of the questioning centred on using wood to generate electricity, rather than on forestry practices.

Eddy agreed with his boss's assessment of why selling hardwood for biomass made no sense.

"A high quality hardwood log could fetch as much as $300, as a hardwood log. It might fetch $15 as biomass," he said. "So you'd have to ask yourself, how many Nova Scotians would do that on a consistent basis?"

Both men also acknowledged the value of any tree depends on how accessible it is to market. 

"It would be worth be worth $300 if you could get it somewhere," said Eddy. "But it might cost you $450 to get it there. That wouldn't make economic sense."

In the end, the deputy minister concluded that the only hardwood likely to be burned for biomass is from the odd tree collected as part of a larger scale harvest. 

"With the various reports we've seen, interacting with Nova Scotia Power, our Department of Energy, the contractors, what we see on Crown land, we're very comfortable that this is virtually no high quality wood other than the inevitable slippage that's involved in any large scale operation," Dunn said.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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