It would be nice to see more of these combined heat and power projects announced across Ontario, particularly those that take advantage of local wood waste. The Ontario Power Authority just announced that it has struck a 10-year power purchase agreement with St. Marys Paper Corp., a large paper mill in Sault Ste. Marie, which is in northern Ontario. The mill plans to build (and co-locate) a new power plant that will use bark and wood waste to generate 30 megawatts of electricity. Waste heat from the plant will be used by the paper mill for industrial processes. Construction is expected to begin next year, and it’s anticipated that 555 direct and indirect jobs will be created as the plant works toward commercial operation in 2014.
This project achieves many things. Jobs, for one, as well as green and efficiently used energy. It also makes St. Marys Paper more competitive, so in a way it provides some added job security for existing employees at the plant. One concern, however, is the fact that St. Marys has negotiated access to up to 400,000 tonnes of biomass annually from the area’s Crown forests for the life of the project. What this means, exactly, I don’t know. Does it mean St. Marys can harvest the forest slash or directly cut down trees for fuel? I would hope that whatever is harvested from these forests will go toward producing paper products first, and then whatever is left over can be used for energy production.
It would also be nice if the power authority disclosed exactly how much it’s paying for this electricity or any other incentives it may be offering. There’s a hint in this report that tens of millions of dollars may flow to the company from the province’s forestry sector prosperity funds, and this would be on top of the $17 million or so in financial aid that went to the struggling company after it was rescued from a bankrupty sale in 2007. The hope, one assumes, is that the CHP plant will lower energy costs for St. Marys and help it to eventually wean itself from corporate welfare.
The Ontario government directed the province’s power authority today to negotiate an agreement to purchase biomass power from Ontario Power Generation, a move that marks the beginning of a three-year coal-to-biomass conversion project at the Atikokan power station about 200 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. “Once converted, the plant is expected to generate 150 million kilowatt-hours of renewable power, enough to power 15,000 homes each year,” according to a government press release. “The annual fuel requirements for the plant, made up of dried wood pellets, are estimated to amount to less than one per cent of the total allowable forest harvest in Ontario each year.”
The Atikokan station was built 25 years ago and has a capacity of 230 megawatts. The plant has produced annually as much as 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. If it’s expected to generate 150 million kilowatt-hours when burning biomass — or one-tenth of peak annual output — it means the plant will be used primarily as a peaker and for other backup purposes.
I know there are concerns within the environmental community, also expressed by Ontario’s environmental commissioner, about the wisdom of using biomass for power generation. The fear is that the biomass that makes up the fuel wood pellets won’t be harvested sustainably, and there is also skepticism related to the “carbon neutrality” of biomass when used as a fuel. Also, particulate emissions are still a concern with burning biomass, so while it may serve a climate change strategy it won’t necessarily address local pollution problems. Obviously, these concerns need to be addressed so that all stakeholders are satisfied, but given the choice, I still believe that biomass is a better option than coal, particularly when it’s only used sparingly and for backup.
What do you think?
Ontario Power Generation issued a call today to potential suppliers of wood pellets to the Atikokan coal plant, which the utility plans to beginning converting to 100 per cent biomass burn in 2012. OPG requests that proponents provide pricing for a minimum volume that is between 22,500 and 30,000 tonnes (a year) and pricing for the entire 90,000 tonnes (a year) requirement,” according to the company’s ” request for indicative prices.”
In other words, it expects it will need 90,000 tonnes annually but wants to break this down into three our four chunks so it can have several suppliers. The final stage of conversion will begin in June 2012 and commissioning of the new equipment will likely start in August. OPG expects full-on commercial operation will happen by December. “The wood fuel pellet supply being considered under this RFIP will have a local content requirement such that the source of the wood fibre and the location of the production facilities that will produce the wood pellets shall be within Ontario,” according to the company. “OPG will require that the wood-based fuel pellets be accompanied by Chain of Custody Certification ensuring that the wood pellets supplied to OPG are manufactured from wood fibre sourced from well managed forests.”
In the Great Lakes St. Lawrence forest region of Ontario it’s estimated that there is about 1.475 million oven dry metric tons of wood fibre available for sustainable harvesting each year, or about 1.25 million if we take into account that some of the biomass will be used as fuel to dry the biofibre. So what OPG is requesting in this initial round is roughly 6 per cent of what’s available — and let’s not forget that pellets made of grass crops are also a potential source of fuel. Let’s keep in mind these converted coal plants will be used as peakers when using biomass fuel. This means there is plenty of biomass available for several units being targeted for conversion at the massive Nanticoke coal plant.
What we’re witnessing here is the beginning of the creation of an entirely new industry in Ontario developed around the need to economically harvest, pelletize and transport biomass fuel pellets to support the province’s coal phaseout strategy. This will create many jobs in parts of the province where jobs are needed most, and will establish a made-in-Ontario biomass fuel supply chain that can support the move to more distributed forms of biomass energy generation. There is plenty of opportunity here for entrepreneurs looking to play a role.
Ontario Power Generation, the province’s power utility, issued today a “call for expressions of interest” to potential suppliers of biomass fuel, which could include agricultural residues, dedicated non-food crops, and forest waste. Read the story here. The company said it wants to find out if there’s enough biomass in the province for it to convert several of its coal-fired generating units in Ontario so they can burn 100 per cent biomass instead of coal. They also want to get a sense of how it would be collected and delivered and how much all that would cost. To assist the effort, the Ministry of Natural Resources put out its own call for interest to see what companies would be interested in harvesting biofibre — tree branches and tops, diseased and fire-damaged trees, etc. — from sustainably managed crown forests.
I wrote about the government’s coal-to-biomass power generation strategy last fall and it appears to be gaining some momentum. It’s an ambitious project. Not just from a technical perspective, in terms of the actual plant conversion, but perhaps even more so from a logistical perspective. Continue reading Is there enough residual biomass in Ontario to fuel a converted coal plant?
What’s a promising way of removing carbon from the atmosphere? Scientists attending climate talks in Poznan, Poland, are trying to sell the idea of biochar, a type of charcoal produced when biomass like agricultural and forest residue is “baked” in the absense of oxygen. This process, called pyrolysis, also produces syngas and bio-oil that can be used as a renewable fuel. But it’s the char or “black carbon” that’s capturing scientists’ imagination. The pyrolysis process locks carbon into the char, which remains stable for hundreds, potentially thousands of years. Continue reading Biochar gets some attention at Poznan as a measurable way of sequestering carbon