Canadian Biomass Magazine

Thunder Bay, Ont., arborist advocates for biomass energy to mitigate climate-induced forest risks

March 20, 2024
By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

An arborist and forester is noticing the growing risks resulting from the changing climate, drought and insect infestation and their impact on forest conditions.

Vince Rutter, owner of Rutter Urban Forestry, said Thunder Bay sits in the middle of a forest and climate change is causing forests to react differently.

“Forest fires are a higher risk,” he said. “Spruce budworm is here and will annihilate hundreds of thousands of balsam fir trees over the next three years, which will make forest fire conditions more intense and we don’t have a plan or good economic solutions to deal with that. Biomass for energy is a big part of how we solve that. But we’re behind on making that accessible immediately.”

Biomass is a forest byproduct of renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. Rutter says more than half of what comes out of the forest during harvests is low-grade, low-value fibre made up of bark, chips, tree tops and limbs. He said if it isn’t used, it’s left on the landscape to turn back into carbon, creating forest-fire problems.


“We’re burning natural gas to make electricity to heat our buildings when we could be using that low value, easily accessible, low-cost fibre instead,” he said, adding there isn’t an economic driver to convert buildings from natural gas to biomass heat.

Although it’s done for heat pumps, he said those pumps are problematic for large-scale use.

“We need to look for solutions to build smaller-scale heating plants in our city and in the region,” Rutter said. “While we look to governments to make the economic situation more favourable to develop them, we can look to local companies that can design and build wood heating systems and companies like logging contractors that can produce heating fuel (biomass) for smaller plants.”

He pointed out that the fibre supply exists along with the contractors to deliver it and everything is in place already to move forward, but the economic triggers need some adjustment to increase viability.

Rutter noted that Thunder Bay is unique in Ontario to spearhead these projects because of its strong forest sector. His company, which removes trees and generates a great quantity of woodchips, provides that woodchip biomass to Confederation College, which is used to heat the Shuniah building.

Rutter was the recipient of $245,000 in provincial funding earlier this year to support his renewable energy production and deliver clean and cost-efficient heat generation with the purchase of a mobile forest biomass chipper and tractor to produce heating chips.

Rutter said the importing of fossil fuels for energy from outside of Ontario needs to stop and Thunder Bay needs to start producing its own energy here.

“That means solar and wind and more biomass for heating and electricity generation,” he said. “I see a full conversion to biomass energy over the next 50 years. Over the next five years, I see some small but significant successes and those would be an eye-opener to the rest of us.”

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