Wood pellet exports: Another lost opportunity?

Larry Hughes

The recently announced purchase and reopening of the Enligna Canada wood pellet manufacturing facility in Middle Musquodobit has been seen as an opportunity to offer employment to former employees as well as forest workers who supplied it with biomass. Although the final details have yet to be settled by the courts, the new owners, Viridis Energy, explained that they were in negotiations with various European electricity producers for the sale of wood pellets to be used as an energy source.

One European country that uses imported wood pellets extensively is Sweden—not only to comply with the European Union’s renewable energy requirements, but also to meet their own policies to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and improve energy security. In Sweden’s case, wood pellets are used in cogeneration facilities to produce both electricity and heat for local district heating systems.

For as much as we may like the Europeans and want to help them improve their energy security, it makes little sense for Nova Scotia to export wood pellets to them when we rely heavily on insecure sources of crude oil and coal for our own energy needs. Although there are no district heating networks in the province and NSPI has thankfully abandoned its plans to co-fire wood with coal, there is still a considerable potential market for wood pellets here.

About 85% of Nova Scotian households rely on fuel oil or electricity for their space heating needs—both of which have been subject to considerable price increases over the past year. If Nova Scotians were to switch to sustainably harvested wood-pellets and pellet furnaces for space heating, there would be a significant improvement in the province’s energy security and money spent on heating would be kept within the province.

As it stands now, Nova Scotia’s energy policies reflect those of Nigeria, another former colony, which, in true colonial fashion, exports energy (crude oil) and then imports more expensive energy (notably gasoline and diesel) to meet its internal needs. Maybe that is an unfair comparison: Nigeria only exports its crude oil, while Nova Scotia has exported its crude oil, natural gas, biomass, and soon apparently, it plans to export green electricity.

Nova Scotia needs a new energy strategy—one that reflects the fact that Nova Scotians must have secure supplies of energy to meet their energy needs.

Submitted to AllNovaScotia.com and Chronicle-Herald, 10 January 2012