Combatting climate change with pellets in NB

Pellets can be part of NB’s move to a low-carbon economy
Gord Murray, WPAC executive director
December 01, 2017
Written by Gord Murray, WPAC executive director
Dec. 1, 2017 - In December 2016, the government of New Brunswick released its Climate Action Plan (CAP), Transitioning to a Low-carbon Economy. The plan lists more than 100 action items to combat climate change including expanding energy efficiency and clean energy programs across all sectors and all fuels; phasing out coal as a source of electricity; investing in smart grids and renewable electricity; establishing carbon pricing and caps on GHG emissions; and increasing spending on energy efficiency.

New Brunswick’s wood pellet sector is well positioned to help the government meet its climate commitments, to improve the provincial economy, and to create more jobs, but needs participation from government and government-owned NB Power to make this happen.

Presently, New Brunswick has four wood pellet plants producing about 190,000 tonnes annually. They are owned by Groupe Savoie, H.J. Crabbe & Sons, Marwood, and Shaw Resources. Northern Energy Solutions is trying to develop a new 200,000 tonne a year plant near Miramichi, but is finding it challenging to secure an offtake agreement. J.D. Irving is studying the potential for a 100,000 tonne-a-year plant in St. Leonard, the feasibility of which is highly dependent on finding a secure outlet for pellets. Ironically, the majority of New Brunswick’s wood pellets are exported through the Port of Belledune to European power plants as a clean replacement for coal, while NB Power uses the very same port to import coal to burn in its Belledune Generating Station. To date, NB Power has been reluctant to consider wood pellets, despite the obvious success of many power plants in Europe, Asia, and even Ontario in converting to wood pellets.

New Brunswick’s producers have had some success in developing a wood pellet heating market within the province. A limited number of public institutions – schools, hospitals, and churches – have installed wood pellet boilers for heating. Some homeowners have installed wood pellet stoves as a lower cost alternative to oil and electrical heating systems. Yet the province’s wood pellet industry would be capable of so much more with the support and engagement of government and NB Power. Growing the wood pellet industry would provide many important benefits for the citizens of New Brunswick including:
  • Growing employment and investment in rural communities.
  • Growing an industry based on using waste materials generated by the sawmill industry.
  • A cost-effective, reliable, and climate-beneficial way to reduce pollution and meet the government’s objective to stop using coal in N.B.
  • Lowering heating costs and emissions in N.B.’s homes, businesses, and public institutions.
  • Reducing dependence on foreign imports of oil and coal, keeping money circulating within N.B.’s economy for local benefit.
There are some practical ways that government and NB Power can help:

1. Use wood pellets at NB Power’s Belledune Generating Station
In the CAP, the province has committed to work toward eliminating coal-fuelled electricity generation as quickly as possible. The government and NB Power should recognize that wood pellets are a cost-effective, reliable, sustainable, and carbon-beneficial fuel for replacing coal as has been proven at many power stations around the world. NB Power should implement wood pellet co-firing at Belledune Generating Station as soon as possible and the province should provide support through financial incentives, policy and legislation.

2. Consider the economic and social benefits of wood pellets when evaluating options for heating public buildings
In the CAP, the government has committed to phase out the use of fuel oil for heating publicly funded buildings. The government should consider the local economic and social benefits of wood pellets in addition to their climate benefits when evaluating options for replacing fuel oil.

3. Provide financial incentives and policy support for residential, commercial and institutional wood pellet heating systems
According to the CAP, the province has committed to support the uptake of increased renewables for both electricity generation and residential/business heating in New Brunswick through financial incentives, policy and legislation.
The province and NB Power should co-operate in providing such incentives for commercial, institutional, and residential heating. This could potentially be done through a rental program similar to what has been done for hot water heaters and/or through rebates for new and replacement heating installations.

4. Recognize the technical and economic benefits of wood pellets over electricity
The government and NB Power should recognize the technical and economic benefits of wood pellets over electricity. Wood pellet heating appliances are commonly at least 80 per cent efficient, compared to 35 per cent efficiency for coal-generated electricity used for heat. Increasing the use of wood pellets for heat would help NB Power to reduce peak electricity demand during winter cold periods and enable its customers to lower their home heating costs. Moreover, a wood pellet stove can be coupled with a small emergency electricity generator to provide secure heat during power outages, such as occurred during 2017’s devastating New Brunswick ice storm.

5. Educate the public about the benefits of wood pellets
It would be beneficial for the province and NB Power to host a website with up-to-date information about the cost of energy from all sources as well as a comparison table to enable consumers to compare the different options when deciding on a heating source. There should be a co-ordinated,
joint-marketing campaign undertaken by the wood pellet producers, distributers of pellet burning appliances, government, and NB Power to increase the awareness of any new programs implemented, the cost savings of using a pellet-burning appliance and the New Brunswick job creation/retention resulting from increased wood pellet consumption. The province has successfully undertaken a similar campaign to raise awareness of mini-split heat pumps, which greatly increased sales of that technology.

With the introduction of its climate action plan, Transitioning to a Low-carbon Economy, the government has made a major commitment to combatting the effects of climate change. New Brunswick’s wood pellet industry is well-positioned to play its part, but needs the support and engagement of GNB and NB Power to make this happen.

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