Biomass project praised
An Annapolis Valley biomass project is getting the thumbs-up from environmentalists.
“This looks like the kind of creative approach to diversifying our fuel mix that we need — the kind of thinking we need,” said Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.
Ontario firm Pro Farm Energy Inc. and Minas Basin Pulp and Power Co. Ltd. of Hantsport want to use abandoned provincial agricultural land to grow Miscanthus giganteus, commonly known as elephant grass, to burn and turn into electricity.
Pro Farm has the agricultural know-how and is negotiating with landowners to obtain large tracts of land to grow the giant grass. Minas Basin is developing a $50-million, 10-megawatt biomass power plant.
Although there are ethical issues surrounding the use of agricultural land to produce fuel, Plourde said the reality is that Nova Scotia has a lot of vacant, poor-quality farmland that is just not productive to use to grow food.
In this case, the project appears to be a win-win situation, with the burning of elephant grass likely decreasing the province’s reliance on fossil fuels and the leasing of otherwise useless agricultural land providing landowners with some income.
“It’s probably a good thing,” Plourde said.
In particular, he is pleased to see a pulp and paper company looking somewhere other than Nova Scotia’s forests to find a biomass source. “Our forests have been beaten to a pulp for pulp.”
Once in operation, the power plant could produce enough power to provide 5,000 homes with electricity. Nova Scotia Power might not need to rely as heavily on coal to produce power, Plourde said.
“I’m not saying that we know everything about elephant grass,” Plourde said.
Before large-scale production of the foreign plant begins in the province, he suggests that it should be studied.
Proponents, however, insist that the plant does not produce viable seeds and therefore is not invasive.
“It’s a new crop to us and we are still learning about it,” said provincial Agriculture Department spokeswoman Adele Poirier.
Department staff are looking to Ontario to find out more about the plant and its production, Poirier said.
Pro Farm grows the nearly-four-metre-tall grass in Leamington, Ont., to heat greenhouse operations.