Logs sorted for lumber along with a pile of chips ready for shipment to a biomass plant. Jim Hilton photo

Column: future jobs from biomass, where is the plan?

"My hope is the Cariboo could be the catalyst to push for a provincial study of fibre distribution"

I was encourage by a recent Black Press article about Williams Lake’s Mayor Cobb supporting the use of slash piles instead of rail ties, but was concerned about Mr. Shannon’s remarks that he hoped the mayor is successful in pushing for a secured affordable biomass for Atlantic Power. While it is a step in the right direction, I don’t think Williams Lake voted in its mayor to look for affordable biomass for Atlantic Power.

So whose job is it to find this affordable biomass? In my opinion, finding affordable biomass for one industry is too narrow a focus. With the impending shortfall of logs for lumber, there is going to be a shortfall of fibre for the pellet plants, pulp plants, OSB, medium density fibre plants, power plants and a host of other smaller value-added businesses. This is not just a Cariboo-Chilcotin problem, but a provincial and national problem, so help is needed from industry (big and small), all levels of government and other communities facing similar lay-offs because of pending log shortfalls.

Distance to market is usually blamed for leaving the residual material on the landings, but at the same time, chips had been moved from Anahim Lake to Quesnel and Prince George and poor quality logs from north of Prince George to the coast. It takes co-operation between a number of users who understand the complexities of moving forest products to the most profitable destination.

My hope is that the Cariboo could be the catalyst to push for a provincial study of fibre distribution and use options across the province and beyond. There are contractors out there who have the expertise to start with the basics, like the forest inventory information, transportation and hydro power infrastructure, economic and government regulation implications as well as industry options. What is needed now is the support from regional districts, chambers of commerce, unions, industry and the public to push for such a study, and maybe follow up with a government sponsored agency to assist companies with a business plan to use the various sources of fibre.

Specifically, I am suggesting a new report similar to the November 2010 report commissioned by BC Hydro’s Integrated Resource Planning Process. The report, “Wood Based Biomass Energy Potential of British Columbia,” looked at 12 regions in the province for electric power potential. I am proposing that a new report is needed in light of being eight years closer to the shelf life of beetle wood, as well as two years of mega fires, and should focus on biomass options for all industries listed above and not just electric power generation. The ongoing wildfire protection plan around various interior cities will also create a variety of biomass sources that need to be used properly.

While I place a lot of the responsibility on the provincial government for not taking the lead on this, there comes a point where industry, in particular small ventures, have to get involved to make it happen. Businesses that have been relying on cheap residual materials from the lumber industry will need to develop a business plan that includes paying some of the costs that were usually covered by lumber production facilities. The same rationale applies for companies producing pulp chips from logs that are no longer good for lumber production. All forest development costs need to be shared by all users of the forest resources.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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