Nova Scotia announces sites for 6 wood energy projects

The Nova Scotia government has announced the six locations that will serve as test sites for wood energy projects in public buildings.

A tender was issued Monday to pre-qualified companies to design, build and operate systems that use wood chips from private woodlots to provide heat at:

  • Hants East Rural High School

  • Perennia Park Atlantic Centre for Agri-Innovation

  • Bridgewater provincial court

  • Centre of Geographic Sciences

  • Memorial High School

  • Riverview High School

"This initiative will help develop new, long-term markets for lower grade wood by replacing imported oil with locally-sourced wood chips," Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said in a news release.

"Creating a new market for lower grade wood will improve the economics of sustainable forest management, leading to healthier forests and a stable market for woodlot owners. "

A big opportunity

The move is one of the recommendations in the Lahey Report on forestry practices. Last summer, the deputy minister of lands and forestry said the government has identified 100 public buildings that would be good candidates for conversion to district heating, a method that's already used widely on P.E.I.

Ian Ripley, general manager of the Athol Forestry Co-op near Amherst, said there's "huge" potential for the use of district heating in Nova Scotia. He and others have pushed for its use in the province for years.

"I think we have a similar if not larger opportunity here in Nova Scotia" compared to P.E.I., said Ripley.

The province is hoping district heating can help fill the void created by the shutdown of Northern Pulp. The Pictou County mill was the largest buyer of chips in the province before it ceased operations last month.

But Ripley said district heating alone won't be enough. By the government's own estimate, each heating plant is expected to use between 300 and 2,000 tonnes annually of wood fuel chips per building. Northern Pulp was buying about 700,000 tonnes of wood chips each year.

Sawmills around the province have expressed concern about their future viability if they are unable to find new long-term homes for their chips. Some have signed short-term agreements to send chips out of the province or to Port Hawkesbury Paper.

NDP criticizes use of P3

The district heat tender closes March 5 and the heating systems, which will be in exterior buildings so they could potentially be used for expansions, should be operating by the end of November. It had been hoped the pilot project would be operating by now.

Ripley said using wood for heat is a far more efficient practice than using it to produce electricity.

"It's a poor use for trees just to make power unless you've got a good demand for the heat that's also coming out of that process when you make electricity."

The NDP issued a news release Monday criticizing the government's decision to use a public-private partnership for the project.

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