From the editor: New energy era may be dawning

April 29, 2009
Written by
Welcome to a bonus edition of Greenhouse Canada. Included is the most recent issue of Canadian Biomass, a sister publication of ours published quarterly.

Canadian Biomass editor Scott Jamieson described the strength – and potential – of the Canadian wood pellet sector in a feature in the debut edition in August 2008. “Canada already has a strong pellet manufacturing sector, with plants across the nation producing some two million tonnes per year, and more on the way. Still, with strong incentives to use renewable energy overseas, the lion’s share of those pellets, even from the main manufacturing zone in the B.C. interior, are shipped all the way to Europe to be used.”

But that’s expected to change. Forestry officials are confident the domestic market will grow. Doug Bradley is president of both Climate Change Solutions and the Canadian Bionenergy Association. “Export markets have driven the building of pellet plants in Canada until now,” said Bradley, quoted in an August 2008 story in Canadian Biomass, “and those markets will continue to drive the financing and building of the new ones. Yet we expect that, gradually over time, the domestic market will grow, and the export volumes will shrink.”

The European market now accounts for 50 to 60 per cent of Canada’s pellet production, while the U.S. purchases 30 to 40 per cent.

Our industry has been talking about alternative fuels for the past few years. Many growers have installed the new systems, and most are reporting significant savings. One caution often expressed by those who have made the switch is the need to find a consistently prepared fuel, and one that comes with a long-term supply/price contract.

Wood pellets are about as environmentally friendly a fuel as you’ll find. They’re carbon neutral. Wood is a renewable resource. And Canada has deep resources.

Biomass may soon get a major boost, a tremendous vote of confidence. The Ontario Power Generation has issued a call to potential suppliers of biomass fuel and transportation services as it moves forward with its study of replacing coal with biomass at existing coal-fuelled generating stations. The call applies to both sustainable forest-based and non-food agricultural products and byproducts.

Converting Ontario’s coal-fired plants over to biomass would require large and consistent supplies of fuel. And that would encourage significant investment in the biomass sector. A new fuel infrastructure would be developed.

Greenhouses will be a major part of that new domestic market for wood pellets. The industry can maximize their energy potential in cogeneration applications of creating electricity for the grid, and utilizing the “waste” heat. It’s environmentally sustainable. Having politicians recognize – and encourage – this usage will help the province meet its energy needs, while at the same time alleviating energy challenges for growers.

A new era of alternative energy may be dawning for the greenhouse industry, but only with a little help from our political friends.

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