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The province of Quebec has the potential to develop a first rate system for developing woody biomass.


October 1, 2014
By By Guillaume Roy | Translated by Amie Silverwood

The province of Quebec has the potential to develop a first rate system for developing woody biomass. Until 2025, 4000GWh of renewable energy could replace fossil fuel usage to prevent up to a thousand tonnes of CO2 from being emitted.

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According to Nature Quebec, the large-scale exportation of biomass and use of biomass to produce electricity is not an environmentally viable option. It’s better to concentrate on replacing polluting and non-competitive energy sources domestically.


 

After a shocking Greenpeace campaign last year denounced the “biomascarade,” a group of industry, co-operatives, municipalities, environmental and social organizations and researchers united to promote a vision of a greener future they have termed Quebec’s Biomass Vision.

Not only did Nature Quebec, an environmental organization, take part in the partnership, but it is also one of the leaders and spokespeople for the group. “Biomass is part of a renewable energy portfolio in Quebec. To replace petroleum products, in district energy, it’s an excellent solution to replace pollutant energy sources and it creates new regional employment opportunities,” says Christian Simard, the general director of Nature Quebec.

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Another one of the groups’ spokespersons, Eugene Simard, deputy director of development for the Quebec Federation of Forestry Cooperatives (QFFC), said, “Greenpeace has denounced extreme methods of harvesting and using biomass. That’s not what we’re talking about.” Using biomass to make heat in local projects is the optimal method of biomass usage even according to Greenpeace.

“To achieve a breakthrough in public acceptance, any biomass system must be held to the highest environmental standards in harvesting and usage,” explains Christian Simard. To build the best projects and to assure social acceptance, Quebec’s Biomass Vision is focused on projects that have an interesting environmental scope. When it comes to harvesting, fixed limits are set (according to the soil type and stands). Also, emphasis is put on using logging and sawmill residuals – forget about harvesting full trees to make biomass.

According to Nature Quebec, the large-scale exportation of biomass and use of biomass to produce electricity is not an environmentally viable option. It’s better to concentrate on replacing polluting and non-competitive energy sources domestically. (Biomass wouldn’t initially replace natural gas in projections.)

The potential to use biomass is enormous even if the industry concentrates on replacing oil and propane energy sources. In Quebec, the total potential for substitution in commercial, institutional and industrial buildings totals 11,848 GWh, while the supply of residual woody biomass amounts to 21,456 GWh (4.29 BDMT, million) according to the research done by Ecoressources for the QFFC. Concentrating on substituting the two sources of nonrenewable energy, Quebec has the potential to produce 4000 GWh of renewable energy by 2025.

Within the industrial sector, the goal is to increase the use of biomass from 9750 GWh to 12,750 GWh, which is an increase from 19.5 per cent to 25.5 per cent of total energy consumed, excluding electricity. Even more significant gains could be realized in the institutional and commercial sector where consumption could be increased tenfold from 150 GWh to 1150 GWh by 2025. If these stats are achieved, biomass would occupy 9.9 per cent of the energy used in the institutional and commercial sector (excluding electricity).

Points worth making
There are numerous reasons to make the substitution. On one hand, fossil fuel energy sources like light fuel oils ($30.52/GJ), heavy fuel oil ($17.63/GJ) and propane ($31.01/GJ) are much more expensive than briquettes ($8.76$/GJ) or wood pellets ($12.83/GJ) (prices are from 2010). And forecasts suggest these price differences will increase over time.

Rather than import nonrenewable resources and generate a commercial balance deficit, Quebec could produce renewable energy and create a local industry producing heat from forestry residuals. One 4000 GWh conversion would allow the province to improve the import balance by $225 million and prevent one million tonnes of CO2. On top of that, these investments in the biomass industry could create 12,500 jobs during the construction phase and 3,600 long-term employment positions.

Regional benefits
In terms of long-term development, the use of forestry biomass for energy production has an added edge because this renewable energy creates a lot more jobs than any other form of energy production. “The use of biomass brings social, economic and environmental benefits. For a small forestry community, the system could create many jobs and generate important economic benefits,” explains Simard.

But it’s in the rural regions of Quebec that developing a biomass system generates the most interest. And it’s for this reason that many municipal partners have signed onto Quebec’s Biomass Vision. “It’s a nice way to support municipalities because it allows them to make the best use of their resources,” Dany Rousseau from the Quebec Municipality Federation points out.

Coop fédérée, a co-operation representing more than 100,000 members, has been interested in biomass since 2008. “We had studied different energy systems and we came to the conclusion that the use of residual woody biomass to make heat is a solution worth promoting. In the context of long-term development, it’s the source of renewable energy that has created the most value,” says Cyril Neron, the director of growth and innovation for Coop fédérée. The Coop fédérée energy branch, Sonic, hopes to profit from the opportunities linked with the development of a biomass industry cluster.

Even if there isn’t much biomass production in private forests at the moment, Quebec’s federation of private forest landowners supports Quebec’s Biomass Vision. “The forest landowners are always partners in the development and utilization of wood products. The biomass cluster has started to take off and can become an interesting revenue source for private forest landowners,” says Marc-André Rhéaume, the federation’s forest engineer.

Quebec’s Biomass Vision rallies several important actors from the industrial, forestry and environmental sectors. Support from Nature Quebec adds credibility to the environmental value of the network. “We want to work at the forefront to ensure heat production from woody biomass becomes the leading model,” explains Amelie St-Laurent Samuel, the head of the biomass project.

“We have managed to rally several organizations around our vision. This demonstrates the strong social acceptance that has evolved around this initiative,” Eugene Gagne adds.

Attaining critical mass
While the cost of using biomass is very competitive compared to the cost of using oil or propane, the initial investment required for installing biomass heaters is prohibitive to development. It’s for this reason that the government must send a clear message of support for the industry, says Eugene Gagne. “The government is a large institutional energy consumer. It needs to take a leading role in the development of the system to lend credibility and help it attain enough critical mass to take off,” he says.

In some rural regions of Quebec, the volume is too small to adequately prepare the necessary fuel. “A large-scale project, like the conversion of the Amqui hospital required at least 1500 tonnes and allowed critical mass for the region to participate. Following its conversion, several small projects were added since the expertise had already been developed in the region,” explains Gagne.

In order to obtain maximum performance and the economic and environmental advantages, the biomass must be adequately prepared as fuel for the boiler. Attaining enough demand enables the development of qualified expertise in the region.

The province relaunched a biomass program based on the use of forestry residuals in 2013 that helps companies and individuals convert their systems and is an excellent tool to develop more opportunities for the industry. “The actual context is very positive,” Eugene Gagne guesses. “In the last budget, the government announced a $20 million investment in turnkey projects.” These investments will be used for heating systems and to sell electricity to clients rather than simply biomass. “By controlling the whole chain of development, these successful projects will lend credibility to the industry,” he adds.

However, the use of biomass for heat production wasn’t part of the climate change action plan for 2013 to 2020. With a budget of $2 million attached to this plan, it would provide an important source of funding for the development of the biomass industry in Quebec.


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