Canadian Biomass Magazine

Features Harvesting Sustainability
Editorial: Biomass Abounds?


August 7, 2009
By Scott Jamieson


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I love the contrarian’s view. In almost 20 years of forestry writing I’ve even made a decent living at it.  No matter how sensible a viewpoint seems, I get nervous when too many heads are nodding agreement. So when Jimmy Girvan, a fibre supply analyst from Victoria, BC, asked if I’d like to hear about a forecast model that shows a less than rosy picture of biomass availability in BC some 10 years out, I said hell yeah.

I love the contrarian’s view. In almost 20 years of forestry writing I’ve even made a decent living at it.  No matter how sensible a viewpoint seems, I get nervous when too many heads are nodding agreement. So when Jimmy Girvan, a fibre supply analyst from Victoria, BC, asked if I’d like to hear about a forecast model that shows a less than rosy picture of biomass availability in BC some 10 years out, I said hell yeah.

Girvan and Murray Hall tease us with some biomass availability forecasts for the central Interior starting on page 17. The future they paint is of a new subsidized biomass sector competing with the traditional forest products sector for a declining fibre supply. As sawmills shut down in the face of increasingly marginal-quality beetle-kill sawlogs, pulp and panel plants will go to the woods for their fibre supply to replace the easy money of sawmill residues. Girvan and Hall imply that emerging policies to support bioenergy may be stacking the deck against these traditional players, and not always to the benefit of local employment.

Now before you think I’m joining a new chorus of nodding heads, here are a few words of caution to consider while reading this article.

All models are based on assumptions and specific data. I don’t know either in this case, so you’d want to explore this further before deciding biomass is not the right fit for the BC Interior.

All fibre supplies are regional, and none more so than biomass because of the economics of moving low-value wood. There may be many opportunities for local biomass entrepreneurs, regardless of how limited the big picture seems.

Given that many of BC’s pulp and existing and proposed panel plants have had a tough time competing using readily available and relatively cheap sawmill residues, how will they compete when they have to go hunting for fibre in the woods?

This is a BC Interior study. Regions like central and northeastern New Brunswick, eastern Ontario, Quebec, northern Ontario, Saskatchewan, southeastern BC, coastal BC, and many border states have seen a near collapse of their traditional pulp and panel industries. In some of these cases, it’s biomass or nothing else.  
         
Finally, when it comes to government policy, is diversity really a bad thing? Look around at some of today’s forestry ghost towns and ask yourself whether a return to a pulp and panel dominated forest sector is in the best interest of communities and the Crown. As the Internet continues to erode the demand for magazine and newsprint in North America, 10 years of market shifts becomes a long time. Will my 11-year old and her friends provide the newsprint market BC Interior mills hope for? I’m not so sure, but I’ll guarantee she’ll want heat and light.

It is likely that in most regions, biomass and bioenergy will find their places alongside traditional wood and forest products, offering loggers and mills another potential revenue stream. In some regions, pulp mills and panel plants will be better able to compete. In others, they’ve already lost the battle. Still, the fact remains that faced with a push to biomass consumption in the central BC Interior, the forecasts of Girvan and Hall should be fodder for serious debate.•

Scott Jamieson, Editor/Group Publisher
sjamieson@annexweb.com


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