Friday, March 23, 2018

Chipping Our Hardwood Forests for Newfoundland

Holyrood Thermal Generating Station (Google Earth)
Bob Bancroft has recently pointed out (Halifax Herald, 6 Feb) that the Point Tupper biomass generating station has quietly resumed full production, consuming 60 to 70 trailer loads of wood daily.

The Halifax newspaper has also reported that the Maritime Link is now in operation, working backwards from its design intention, and it now being used to ship power to Newfoundland. 

Newfoundland gets a lot of its power from smallish hydroelectric plants all around the island as well as a few oil-fired plants, but the largest and most important of their power plants is at Holyrood, just outside St John's.  This plant typically supplies 25% of the province's electricity, and sometimes as much as 40%. A few years ago one of the turbines went down in winter and customers were being forced to conserve power and reduce their demands until the repairs could be made.

This plant burns light oil, typically diesel fuel, although I seem to recall that at one time it was burning raw crude from one of their offshore wells.

Now, the plant has been idled because Newfoundland can import power from Nova Scotia across the Maritime link, the huge undersea cable that was to bring electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia. Muskrat Falls is not yet in operation so it appears that an equally good use of the Link is to provide electricity to Newfoundland, presumably at a lower cost than operating the oil plants at Holyrood.

Nova Scotia Power uses a mix of fuels to generate its electricity. They have a few small hydro plants, a tidal plant at Annapolis Royal, several coal burning plants, most notably at Trenton and Lingan, a natural gas/oil plant at Tuft's Cove in Dartmouth, and, of course, the biomass plant at Point Tupper. They tend to use the coal plants to service the base load - coal plants are slow to bring online and do best when they can just chug along day in and day out. Gas turbines are the most flexible, as they can be kept spinning (almost in idle) and can be brought on very quickly when the load spikes. (Even countries like Germany which get so much of their power from wind turbines have to keep gas turbines ticking over and ready to take up the load when the wind suddenly dies.)

The load managers at NS Power probably use sophisticated calculations to decide which power plants to use at any point in the day: factors might be current load, projected load, plant capital cost, plant availability, fuel costs, degree of utilisation (can we use each plant at peak efficiency?), geographic location, availability of power from the inter-provincial grid, and more. It does appear, though, that when all those calculations are done, it pays Nova Scotia Power to chip our old growth forests to fuel the biomass plant in order to sell power to Newfoundland. In purely dollar terms, it is cheaper to chip our forest than for Newfoundland to burn oil. I cannot imagine that there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from burning our forests instead of oil.

Bob Bancroft made an important point in his 6 February op-ed. He said that the decisions that are made about our forest are made by people, with names. Bancroft said he knew some of them. And some people in Nova Scotia have decided that it is acceptable to chip our hardwood forests and reduce the land to a moonscape in order to turn a dollar from Newfoundland. Natural gas is really expensive this month, but NS Power could sell coal or gas electricity to Newfoundland for a higher, fairer price, or Newfoundland could run their own oil plants. Is it really in Nova Scotia's best  interests to destroy our forests for Newfoundland's benefit?  

How do those people sleep at night?

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