By Gordon Murray
Feb. 4, 2019 - Japan is studying the potential for a seismic increase in wood pellet imports from western Canada – especially from British Columbia. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has engaged the Japanese Coal Energy Center (JCOAL) to examine the business case for increasing wood pellet co-firing with coal from the current level of two per cent, up to 20 per cent, resulting in a potential annual demand of 30 million metric tonnes of wood pellets, worth some $6 billion a year. Japan prefers Canada as a supply source due to our country’s reputation for high quality, reliable supply and strong sustainability credentials.
By Gordon Murray
In the course of their investigation, JCOAL representatives are examining:
- the expected impact on greenhouse gas and other noxious emissions
- the technical impacts on power plant combustion and performance
- Canadian raw material supply, forestry regulations, and sustainability
- the ability of the Canadian transportation network – roads, rail and ports – to handle the expected traffic increase
- willingness of Canadian companies to ramp up production
Over a four-day period from Jan. 28 to 31, the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) hosted JCOAL representatives in Canada. Our program included:
- visits to the University of British Columbia (UBC) where we met with professors and scientists from the faculties of forestry and engineering;
- a half-day seminar at the offices of the BC Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology (JTT) that included representatives of JTT, WPAC producer-members, terminal operators, CN Rail, Sumitomo, and UBC;
- a forest management presentation from Canfor and a tour of the company’s seedling nursery; and
- visits to pellet plants near Prince George.
Notably, despite WPAC’s repeated urging, the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) did not participate in the JCOAL program and has not shown the slightest interest in JCOAL’s investigation and the potential for massive capital investment, expansion of trade and job growth, especially in rural B.C.
This is entirely at odds with its 2018 throne speech in which the B.C. government committed to ensure that timber will continue to generate good jobs in forest-dependent communities, maintain and enhance the competitiveness of our forest industry, while diversifying the industry with increases in manufactured wood, and work with industry, First Nations, workers and communities to make forestry even stronger, and maximize the value B.C. gets out of each log.
What are we left to think when the Ministry responsible for executing this part of the government’s commitment to its citizens can’t be bothered to participate in a major initiative to increase exports to Japan? We can be sure that the Japanese government will not be impressed.
Just a few weeks ago, forests minister Doug Donaldson led a B.C. trade mission to Asia where he said, “There are certain things that government can do to ensure we have jobs in rural communities that depend on forestry, and there are areas where it’s difficult to exert influence on as a government – global markets on lumber prices, for instance, but this trade mission is one example of something where the B.C. government has a very legitimate and importance role, and we are acting on it to make sure that there will continue to be rural jobs in forestry.”
We invite Minister Donaldson to remind his team that the wood pellet sector is part of the forest industry.
Gordon Murray is the executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canda. www.pellet.org.