Monday, September 22, 2008

Generating energy from our forests speeds climate change!

Sorry the blog has been a bit quiet recently... there hasn't been too much to report in the last week on forests and climate change.

I did attend a very exciting CPAWS planning session last week where we talked about our efforts to conserve the boreal forest and highlighted new opportunities and threats.

The biggest threat we identified was the movement to use our natural forests as a source of energy: harvesting and burning woody biomass to create electricity. There is apparently a push to convince British Columbia to salvage log as much of the pine forests affected by the beetle outbreak as possible for this purpose. The government is right now considering whether or not to grant long-term licences for this activity.

There are a couple of problems with this idea:

  • Burning woody biomass to produce energy actually releases significant CO2 emissions. This is because wood is a low-grade fuel within only 35% the energy intensity of diesel. People argue that woody bioenergy is green because the wood will grow back, sucking the CO2 back out of the atmoshphere. But that could take over a hundred years. So though the long-term outlook might not be so bleak, we would be quadrupling greenhouse gas emissions exactly when it is most urgent to reduce them.
  • Harvesting forests for energy would have far greater ecological impacts than conventional harvesting for wood products. Because the profit margins are so low, companies would likely remove all biomass from the site leaving areas that make clearcuts look like sensitve logging.
Woody bioenergy is being considered as a new energy source in other parts of the country too (Ontario and Quebec, for example). Although using wood waste to generate electricity seems like a good idea, harvesting natural forests to generate electricity does not.

Any information anyone can offer on developments in this area or experiences from other jursidictions would be helpful. Thanks.

For more information, see the CPAWS factsheet on woody bioenergy.

No comments: