Despite the recent economic troubles and the drop in global oil prices, interest is still high to develop the Island’s biofuel potential.
PEI Announces Forest Biomass Harvest Guidelines
Despite the recent economic troubles and the drop in global oil prices, interest is still high to develop the Island's biofuel potential. These energy sources are based on renewable natural resources such as wood and agricultural by-products and are used to heat residential, institutional, and industrial buildings. While most of these proposals are still at the discussion stage, many people in the forest sector see wood-based biomass fuels as one way out of the current industry slump by improving opportunities for landowners, establishing markets for wood waste from local mills, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating more self-reliance for energy supplies.
"With today's renewed interest in biofuels, the province has taken the lead by developing biomass harvest guidelines."
This scenario may seem rather familiar to those who have been around the Island's forest sector for a while. In the 1980s, skyrocketing oil prices and concerns over supply led many Islanders to explore the possibilities of biomass - particularly wood chips - to offset their heating costs. Government invested in wood chip burners across PEI and supported the development of a biomass harvest industry.
While landowners could access forest management advice and services, they often made their harvest decisions based solely on economic factors. This led to a situation where these sites were simply clearcut, chipped, and allowed to either revert to forest cover naturally or by planting. The impacts of these decisions led people to realize that creating an environmental benefit - in this case a reduced dependence on fossil fuels - should not result in a negative impact on the forest.
With today's renewed interest in biofuels, the province has taken the lead by developing biomass harvest guidelines. In essence, these guidelines recognize landowners' rights to make their own land use decisions and the ability of biomass-based industry to secure their own supplies. The guidelines come into effect if the landowner or business wants to use public funds or green credits in their biomass operation.
Over the years, thousands of Island landowners have had forest management plans prepared for their lands. Their plans provide them with detailed information on the capabilities and limitations of each section of their forests and outlines how to manage each section to help them meet their goals. Once the plan is approved, the owner can get help for treatments, such as tree planting, thinning, and tree marking services. Under these guidelines, landowners who are interested in biomass harvesting and who want to access public support through provincial programs will first be required to meet the standards required in the Ecosystem- based Forest Management Standards Manual (www.gov.pe.ca/ go/eco-summary). This means that all sites will be harvested in an appropriate manner as laid out in their forest management plans and then the site will be returned to forest cover as quickly as possible by planting, natural renewal, or some combination of these two methods.
For forest sites where clearcutting is the recommended option, only the stem of the tree may be removed. Branches, leaves and root systems remain on the site to recycle essential nutrients and to build organic matter back into the soil. On sites that are harvested by thinning, the operator can remove the trunk and the branches but the root system must be left in place. Exceptions can be made for sites that are slated for conversion to other uses, but in these cases, the site will be monitored for a 10-year period to ensure that the planned activities occur. If the conversion does not occur within that time, penalties may be levied for noncompliance. In all cases, the biomass harvest site must be mapped using GPS and the files sent to the Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry for entry into the provincial database.
Many large-scale biomass electrical generation projects require access to "Green Credits" in order to make the venture economically viable. Basically, Green Credits are tradable environmental commodities based on a business's ability to generate energy without adding carbon from fossil fuels into the ecosystem. Renewable energy businesses can sell the rights to the carbon they did not create to industries that are carbon emitters as a means of offsetting new carbon and thus reducing society's overall carbon contribution to the atmosphere. However, on PEI the province has laid claim to credits associated with the production of renewable electricity, so any forest biomass- based venture wanting to use them as part of their business plan will have to ensure that their harvest activities comply with the guidelines.
Renewable energy lessens our dependency on fossil fuels and creates local employment and income. When combined with effective forest management and landowner education programs, biofuels can help to create healthier, more diverse forests for the future too. For more information on forest management programs and opportunities for Island landowners, or to learn more about the Ecosystem-based Forest Management Standards Manual, visit www.gov.pe.ca/go/fep.