Power from wood waste could feed electricity grid, says advocate

A gathering of Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce members received a schooling in forestry basics and warned of the work that needs to be done by business organizations, government and municipal leaders to sustain forests and preserve the industry.
Derek Nighbor, president and chief executive officer of the Forest Products Association of Canada, presented on the economic impacts of the forestry sector on Tuesday at the Da Vinci Centre.
He said the pulp mill closures in Ontario in the last few of months have "sent shockwaves" through the industry.
"As soon as a few pulp mills go down, that creates massive problems for the business model for our sawmills, and the entire forest ecosystem, and Northwestern Ontario is not immune from a lot of the challenges," Nighbor said.
"Northwestern Ontario is actually in a very unique position to seize a moment here."
He says there is work being done, including reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, climate action and emissions reduction.
"In Thunder Bay, there is the opportunity to think of our pulp mills as energy producers, energy plants or power plants and that's an area where governments need to be a little bit more deliberate and looking at the opportunities," he said, adding electrification is not going to work everywhere.
Nighbor said the composition of a pulp and paper mill is "very conducive" to making energy. Many mills across the country, including the ones in Dryden and Thunder Bay, generate power for themselves to power their operations by using what would otherwise be wood waste.
"How can we generate more of that power, and instead of just helping power your facility, how can it help power the community and feed into the grid?" he asked.
He pointed out the need to look at communities that don't have access to natural gas or that are more rural, northern and remote.
"We should see what can be done on energy generation and the use of biomass to provide lower carbon solutions to address climate change and reduce emissions overall, support local industry and get people the power they need when they need it," he said.
Nighbor spoke about how biodiversity conservation ensures that all species of mammals, birds and fish in the forest are thriving, and noted the wildland fire risks from climate change and other factors.
"We're seeing concerns about what pulp mill closures might mean to timber standing and aging out and as those trees get to 70-90 years old in the boreal forests, which is what we're surrounded by here, they're going to be taken down by pests, fire and wind. These trees aren't living forever," he said.
"We need to be mindful of the biodiversity and the many ecosystem values, issues and concerns and we need to be thinking more about fire and what is the cost of not harvesting in terms of leaving those trees up and putting communities at risk."
Nighbor said one of the biggest misconceptions about forestry is that if the harvesting of trees is restricted, the fire problem becomes worse. Last year, the massive fires that burned across the country served as a wake-up call to be looking at the communities and forest management through a lens of fire risk mitigation.
"How do we protect communities? How do we keep these forests more resilient and healthier? That's going to mean harvesting more, it's also going to mean trying to get more deadwood out and building markets for that low-grade wood," he said.
"The more we can do that in the Northwest, the better it's going to be for the economy, the environment, for the community, and the safety of critical infrastructure."

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal