News

1. Biomass

“Guysborough County harvester Danny George is accusing the Department of Natural Resources of allowing old-growth hardwood to be cut and burned in Nova Scotia Power’s biomass boiler at Point Tupper,” reports Aaron Beswick for the Chronicle Herald.

Beswick gets into the details of that charge, and it’s worth reading the whole article. (As an aside, it’s good when Herald reporters are given the freedom to break from the usual inverted pyramid style reporting; Beswick is asking readers to take the time to explore the issue with him, and the result is both readable and informative.)

Burning old-growth hardwood forests for biomass is, well, insane. It is the exact opposite of responsible forest management.

Beswick’s article is timely, as I was intending to open today with the following…

“Burning wood in power plants will significantly undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions over the next 10 – 50 years even under industry best-case scenarios where only forestry wastes are burned as fuel, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters,” according to a press release issued by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PPI), a public advocacy group that focuses on biomass energy and oil and gas extraction.

The study, “Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy,” was authored by PPI director Mary S. Booth, an ecologist formerly with the Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, and was published in Environmental Research Letters, a peer-reviewed journal.

The study, continues the PPI release,

assesses net COemissions from burning tree tops and branches left over from forestry operations. Such materials are often considered to have zero net greenhouse gas emissions since they are assumed to emit CO2 from decomposition or incineration even if they are not burned for energy. The paper explodes this fallacy by demonstrating that even when power plants burn true wood residues and exclude whole trees specifically cut for fuel, net emissions are still significant. 

The study examines the net CO2 emissions impacts of biomass burned in US power plants and exported wood pellets that are burned to replace coal at the UK’s massive Drax power station and other power plants in the EU. Combined, these facilities consume tens of millions of tonnes of wood per year. The study acknowledges that wood pellets are often sourced from whole trees, not forestry residues, but evaluates carbon emissions from residues-derived pellets because the biomass industry so often claims residues are a main pellet feedstock. It finds that even assuming the materials burned are true residues, up to 95% of the cumulative CO2 emitted represents a net addition to the atmosphere over decades.

The paper includes a method for weighting CO2 emissions from biomass power plants so they can be counted under carbon trading and renewable energy subsidy programs.

Like other recent papers on bioenergy, Booth’s study finds that burning wood for energy is not compatible with Paris Agreement goals to reduce carbon pollution in the coming decades, but additionally demonstrates that net CO2 emissions are large even under the biomass industry’s best case scenario where biomass is sourced from residues, rather than whole trees.

Click here to watch a “video abstract” of Booth’s paper.

Click here to read the entire paper.

Linda Pannozzo addressed this issue in her article “Life After Pulp,” published in the Examiner last May. Pannozzo countered claims from the federal and provincial governments that biomass (and relatedly, biofuel) is a carbon-neutral industry.

And, as Pannozzo detailed in her “Biomass, Freedom of Information and the Silence of the DNR Company Men” series, we seem to burning the entire provincial forest stock in pursuit of short-term profits based on the flimsiest of “carbon neutral” rationales. She concluded the series with the observation:

For nearly 50 years the DNR showed us the numbers despite the fact that they pointed to some very worrying trends. In the late 1990s the government warned that we were liquidating our forests and harvesting on private lands was unsustainable. Since then, despite overwhelming public sentiment for a sea change in forest management the government has instead been busy with something else — working on behalf of industrial forest interests — all under the guise of ecology and forest science.

2. Teachers

“Education Minister Zach Churchill has met with the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union a day after the union revealed its illegal strike mandate over education reforms,” reports the Canadian Press:

Angela Murray, a spokeswoman for the union, says Liette Doucet sat down with Churchill on Thursday but that both sides have agreed to keep the discussion confidential.

3. Gottingen bus lane

“After hearing concerns from the local business community, Halifax regional councillors voted in favour of a modified version of a proposed bus lane for Gottingen Street on Thursday,” reports Zane Woodford for Metro.

Read Erica Butler’s explainer on the Gottingen proposal here.

Woodford continues:

The committee voted down the staff recommendation, and voted in favour of a revised one from Coun. Lindell Smith that would allow short-term (30 to 90 minute) parking and loading in the bus lane during off-peak hours — any time other than 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

The revised motion also asked staff to come back with reports on a parking loss mitigation plan; a review one year after implementation; and a report on “the potential for moving northbound express buses (as planned) to a different route and moving Dartmouth bound express buses to Barrington via the bridge ramp.”

4. Public information

“A fast-moving fire that claimed the lives of four children in rural Nova Scotia last month was ignited by heat coming from a wood stove, the province’s fire marshal confirmed Thursday, as he said his office must do a better job of releasing such information,” reports Michael MacDonald for the Canadian Press:

Last week, a spokesperson for the provincial government confirmed the fire marshal’s investigation had been completed, but she refused to release its basic findings, citing “privacy laws.”

The response from the Municipal Affairs Department, which oversees the Office of the Fire Marshal, was criticized by David Fraser, a legal expert in privacy issues, and journalism professor Fred Vallance-Jones at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

[Fire Marshall Fred] Jeffers said his office is not in the habit of routinely releasing such information, but he confirmed basic findings have been released in the past when doing so was in the public interest.

As well, he stressed that his investigation reports must first be vetted through the FOIPoP process before any information can be released.

He agreed when asked if there needed to be more openness when it comes to releasing that information.

All deaths are in the public interest, and especially unexpected deaths like this. Death should rightly bring attention to a host of public policy issues: the adequacy of regulatory measures (in this case, of wood stoves) and emergency response, and issues around general safety. There’s always room for improvement, but we can’t make those improvements if full information isn’t in the public hands.

5. Another Suspicious Package show

The boys are getting long in the tooth, but they still manage to put on the occasional show, according to a police release:

Halifax Regional Police responded to a report of a suspicious package inside a building in the 5500 Block of Cornwallis St in Halifax. Patrol members conducted an initial investigation and the Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) was deployed to examine the package. EDU members conducted an examination and determined that the contents of the package did not pose any threat to the public. The origin of the package is still under investigation.

The 5500 block of Cornwallis Street includes the Gordon B. Isnor Manor, but there are several businesses on the block as well.


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Nanostructured Polymer Materials for Applications (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Guojun Liu from Queen’s University will speak.


In the harbour

6am: George Washington Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
7:30am: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Manila
10am: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
11:30am: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
2:30pm: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
3:45pm: Glorious Leader, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
8pm: NYK Atlas, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
9pm: George Washington Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai


Footnotes

I’ve been sick, so this is a short Morning File. But I seem to be getting better; hopefully I’ll be back at full speed on Monday.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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6 Comments

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  1. I suspect that Dexter – like those before and after him – was trying to strike some sort of balance between conservation and our forest industry. It felt like an uncomfortable compromise even then. No premier wants the loss of hundreds of local jobs on his watch, (with the exception of Premier McNeil who almost wiped out the NS film industry).

  2. The biomass plant is an unfortunate legacy of the Dexter NDP government. I’d like to know what the new look NDP has to say about this travesty. We know the NS Green party hasn’t a hope in Hades of being elected, so where does someone who cares about the environment park their vote?

  3. I remember when parking was allowed along Bayers Rd and Quinpool Rd during non-peak traffic hours. So Gottingen will have short-term (30 to 90 minute) parking and loading in the bus lane during off-peak hours — any time other than 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m

    Tow trucks and parking enforcement revenue accounts should blossom… just another penalty tax that is a part of the bandage approach HRM continues to take towards public transit and transportation.

    Still no talk of developing and implementing 50 to 100 year plans… the problems facing the Halifax area will not be rectified until a commitment is made to be proactive and spend the money on real fast transit solutions. Until then, HRM will just keep feeding the money-pit, lowest cost endeavours are seldom effective providers of long-term solutions.

  4. ‘Heat from a wood stove’ is the expected outcome of having a wood stove. Most likely this family couldn’t afford insurance and the associated costs of installing their stove to qualify for insurance. And that compounds this tragedy.