by Andy Walker
As the price of fossil fuels continues to rise, Bruce McCallum says bioenergy is becoming a more attractive option as an energy source throughout the Maritimes.
Mr. McCallum is chairman of the Canadian Bioenergy Association, a national non-profit organization promoting the production of biomass for fuel, heat and power. A bioenergy consultant, he was also chairman of a meeting held in the P.E.I. capital Thursday to explore bioenergy options for heat and power.
A Calgary-based company, New Phase Power, is considering establishing a plant in Borden-Carleton. Mr. McCallum, who is also chairman of the Maritime Bioenergy Working Group that has developed sustainable harvesting guidelines for the region, said there are also proposals for other plants throughout the region, including one in Port Hawkesbury.
"Obviously at $20 a barrel for oil, the economics for biomass simply don’t add up," Mr. McCallum said in an interview. "However, my own view is oil is going to be closer to $100 than $20 for some time to come."
He said the developers of the biomass proposals must receive in the range of 10-12 cents a kilowatt when they sell their product to the respective provincial utility for distribution to the consumer. The association president added "that is the figure that is being used for several biomass proposals in Ontario, and it has to be close to that in the Maritimes for this to work."
If the economics can be worked out, he said there will be a new market for low-grade softwood, much of which is now considered a waste product. However, he added it is vital the product be harvested in a sustainable manner.
To that end, the Maritime Bioenergy Marketing Group has developed some basic harvesting guidelines.
"We have to focus biomass harvesting on stem material and large tops," said Mr. McCallum. "We have to leave the branches that have fallen on the forest floor as nutrients for future stands."
As well, he added clearcutting should be avoided and care must be taken to minimize disturbance to forest wildlife.
New Phase Power is negotiating with the province and Maritime Electric, trying to nail down those economic details Mr. McCallum talked about.
Energy Minister Jamie Ballem told the conference he is hopeful the talks will see a successful conclusion in the near future.
"This is a perfect fit with our efforts to move away from fossil fuels and power that is generated outside the province," Mr. Ballem said.
"We see it as another step towards our goal of having 30 per cent of our energy from sustainable sources by 2016."
The fabrication yard, which was used to build many of the major components of Confederation Bridge, has been vacant since the bridge was completed in 1997. Mr. Ballem said the New Phase proposal calls for the construction of a 25-megawatt biomass generating plant on the site. A plant of that size could produce enough energy to power 7,500 homes.
Mr. Ballem added the Island forestry industry may not be able to meet the demand for raw materials, and some waste wood may have to be shipped to the province from other parts of the Maritimes.
The minister said one of the major reasons the company is looking at Borden-Carleton is its deepwater port for shipping in raw materials.