THE PROMISE OF BIOMASS AS AN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE
By Cori Marshall
This story is brought to you in part by Rainmaker Worldwide
We have seen that energy produced from biomass is being suggested as a viable alternative to diesel fuel generation plants in remote First Nations communities. The feedstock can be sourced locally, further cutting the use of diesel in transport. It can also create jobs for the community stimulating the local economy.
There is a biomass industry in Canada, currently there 37 biomass generating stations producing electricity in six provinces, Alberta is leading the way with 10. Biomass Recycle is a company that "specializes in eco-responsibly recycling and reusing waste wood and lumber residues from all sources." We spoke with Gérard Quenneville President and founder of the company.
Quenneville explained that his business began because he was trying to find "local sources of energy." From that, the idea to divert wood from landfills was born. Biomass Recycle converts the waste material to energy, wood pellets, mulch, and compost.
Quenneville added that a secondary goal of the company "was to promote self-sufficiency." He said that "in Canada, we have a lot of wood that we could use for our daily energy use." This has led to exploring the idea of building homes where the domestic heat and power are supplied by biomass. This is just an example of what can be done with biomass energy.
Quenneville said that "energy is something that our society takes for granted and it's a time bomb."
In its draft Technical Report and Business Case for the Connection of Remote First Nations Communities, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) - a Crown corporation responsible for operating the electricity market in the province of Ontario - stated that 25 remote communities in Northwest Ontario "are currently not connected to the provincial electricity grid and use local diesel generators for electricity." According to the report, there is a forty-year planning period and consumption of diesel fuel is expected to rise by 450%. The report also states that it was deemed uneconomical to connect two indigenous communities, Whitesand First Nation and Gull Bay.
Whitesand First Nation is in the process of building and operating a 4-megawatt biomass cogeneration plant. This type of project is perfect for this community, it will stop using diesel for power and will stimulate its local economy. According to a report by the band's community development officer, Daniel Mackett the community experiences "high unemployment, high rates of social assistance, and low levels of education." The diesel generating capacity is at its maximum capacity, and "future housing or other infrastructure [projects] are jeopardized."
The Whitesand project is centered on five cornerstones "culture, skills training and education, environment, society, [and] economic development." According to Mackett, over the "development stages various government goals and mandates appeared which continued to place greater value on [the] project."
The project has received a "wood supply commitment," and has moved to training its skilled labour. According to the report, "22 [community] members enrolled in the [Wood Products & Energy Manufacturing Program], and 13 graduated”. The program trains individuals to be "capable of working in several job stations across all plant operations." The project is well underway though there are still many tasks ahead to be completed.
Biomass could be beneficial to remote First Nations Communities in many ways. It lowers their dependence on fossil fuels and creates jobs for residents. Biomass, as we have seen can be generated from waste material, and even if not, its use could be considered carbon neutral, as any emissions would be offset by the replanted forests.