One more reason to remove the veil of secrecy over NS government support of plans to develop a Forest Biorefinery for Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia government, at least post-Dexter who touted NS’s first investments in biofuels in 2012, generally avoids mentioning its interests and direct investments in biofuels and the like (view Post May 4, 2017).
So I get nervous when such interests disappear from public view, particularly as the McNeil Government strategizes, presumably, on how to deal with possible, and it seems increasingly likely closure of the the NP Mill – and with biofuel advocates highly placed within the NSDNR/L&F bureaucracy and those currently outside of government pressing their interests behind closed doors. (View, e.g., Posts Feb 22, 2017; Dec 11, 2018; Dec 14, 2018; Mar 19, 2019)
The Independent Review largely skirted the Forest Biomass issue, which hasn’t helped to keep it all above-board. In a Mar 26, 2019 update on L&F’s work to implement recommendations of the Independent Review, there is reference to “Small-Scale Wood Energy Projects” (recommended by the Independent Review), but none to a possible Biorefinery. However, as that was not commented on in the Report on the the Independent Review, there would be no ‘requirement’ to comment on a Biorefinery in any update.
Nevertheless, a Biorefinery apparently remains a priority within the current government/bureaucracy. When NSDNR’s mandate was distributed between two Depts last summer – L&F and Energy & Mines, it seems the Biorefinery interests were shifted to Mines and Energy, where they are quite explicit:
Under energy.novascotia.ca >renewables > bioenergy : (bolding is mine)
Bioenergy has many forms, including
– biomass, which can include forest biomass, wood processing wastes, agricultural wastes, and energy crops for example
– biogas, which is largely methane can be used in engine generator sets to produce electricity and heat from the digestion of wet organic waste materials.
– biofuels, which are renewable fuels that can replace gasoline, diesel, or home heating fuels.
The Province is currently assessing bioenergy opportunities to ensure any potential sources can be produced sustainably and complement—but do not compete with—existing industries such as forest products and food crops.
We are also assessing opportunities to allow demonstration of pre-commercial processes that a future bio-refinery industry may hold for Nova Scotia.
Oh Dear. As I have noted before:
The Forest Biorefinery Concept, is largely still that; a concept, that has yet to be proven. View
Ten years on, forest biorefinery a “modest success” (Shaun. L. Turriff for Canadian Biomass Mar 3, 2015).
This is the big league big time and as noted in the article,
One of the more sobering moments in Axegård’s presentation, despite his own declared optimism, came as a reminder of the timelines associated with this sort of new product and process development. The LignoBoost lignin extraction process, his example, was conceived in 1996, and commercialized in 2013, some 17 years later. This was a timely reminder — just five years ago, when this conference first began, many industry experts were claiming that much of the biorefining technology being discussed then was still 10 to 15 years from commercialization.
As I see it, Nova Scotia (going back to Dexter and the Nova Scotia Hub Initiative) is being bilked to help support its development which requires an order of magnitude or two more $ and expertise than are available in NS. So, if it’s finally successful, what are the chances that will occur in NS? And you can bet, were it successful, the pressure to clearcut to keep it “competitive” would only intensify.
Ironically, the concept is to make use of all products from the pulping process (or a similar process), including lignins, so there would probably be no need for a Pipe. However, the cost to our forests and the rest of us – if it ever reached fruition in Nova Scotia – would be immense. Time for a reality check. At least the government should be explicit (public and transparent) about the options it is exploring and talk to more than just the advocates for Biomass, Biofuel, a Biorefinery and the Bioeconomy before taking us further down that path.
So as a yet unproven concept, the NS Government from McNeil down, should be wary.
But here’s another reason to be very wary: Investors – if not governments and the forest industry – are beginning to realize that there is a lot of hype around biofuels and the like.
A Petition to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (Feb 27, 2019) signed by 27 senior execs in responsible investment groups requests guidance to “to ensure that issuers manufacturing and using biomass-based fuels and products engage in comparable disclosures regarding greenhouse gas emissions that are informative to investors and not materially misleading” and cites “public-facing materials and SEC disclosures of 10 US companies selling biomass-based fuels and products [which] revealed that in each case, disclosures about GHG emissions were largely unsubstantiated and sometimes misleading.’
They note that “from an investor standpoint, the perceived urgency of climate change has made companies that focus on addressing these problems very attractive, meaning that claims that products reduce greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be highly material to investors. In some cases, reducing GHG emissions may be the primary reason a company or product exists. Investors need to know that company claims about emissions are standardized and reliable. Currently, however, climate-based claims about bioenergy and biomass-based products are often free-form, unsubstantiated, and misleading. “Greenwashing” of emissions associated with biobased fuels and products harms investors when products fail to produce the climate benefits that have been promised. When shortcomings are revealed publicly, this contradictory evidence can undermine value…The potential for enthusiastic investors to be harmed by companies making grand claims about bioproducts has already been demonstrated. Investors have lost millions of dollars when companies claimed to produce greater quantities of bioproducts than they actually did, in at least two cases triggering SEC involvement.”
How often has Nova Scotia been bilked in the past, especially in the forestry sector, through non-public, backroom agreements? If those promoting a Biorefinery and related products in Nova Scotia, whether in government or in private business, truly believe in the climate benefits of the products and systems they are espousing, then why not open it all up to public scrutiny?
If they don’t and deals are made, those doing them will be long gone by the time Nova Scotians pay the price if they go sour, as has happened so often. If they do open it all up to public scrutiny, and it stands up to public scrutiny, all well and good.
The same applies to current Forest Bioenergy projects in Nova Scotia, for which we have no comprehensive public accounting, and which the Minister of Lands & Forestry has recently defended (Post, Mar 19, 2019) – even though the concept that forest bioenergy based on feedstocks other than genuine processing wastes (and even some configurations involving genuine processing wastes as at the Port Hawkesbury Biomass plant) reduce GHG emissions has been challenged repeatedly in higher level scientific literature for over 10 years, largely to no avail in practical terms.
That may be about to change as the EU is dragged to court for backing forest biomass as ‘renewable energy’ (www.euractiv.com, Mar 4, 2019). Undoubtedly, that will put the GHG accounting for forest biomass under intense legal scrutiny.
Can we assume that Premier Mc Neil, NS Lands and Forestry and NS Energy and Mines are keeping a tab that one and the more recent appeal to US Securities and Exchange Commission highlighted above?
Only if they let us know about it.