Northwestern Ontario is poised to play a pivotal role in the emerging biomass economy according to Dawn Lambe the executive director of Biomass North Development.
Biomass North Forum, a two-day conference in Thunder Bay, started Wednesday with a large delegation from Finland taking part.
“In the north, our forestry industry has been in transformation. It has been a period of incredible confusion, rebirth and regrowth,” Lambe told The Chronicle-Journal.
“The north, I think, is in a unique position to define what’s going to happen with their forest in the future,” she said.
Small municipalities and First Nations communities are driving the new bio-economy by taking jurisdiction over forest resources and allocating biomass forest byproducts to their own interests, said Lambe.
Bio-heat is an example that Lambe pointed to that is cutting home heating costs by 60 per cent in a variety of communities.
A delegation of leading Finnish renewable energy companies and institutions is taking part, led by Kai Mykkanen, Finland’s minister of foreign trade and development.
Lambe explained that Finland had to look to ‘green gold’ biomass technology out of desperation when Russia turned off the country’s supply of natural gas at various times.
“They had to solve this problem we never had to solve before — until we had climate change, until we had a catastrophic failure in the forest industry and market failure, until we had communities that were looking to reinvent themselves.”
Lambe believes that we have reached critical mass after more than five years of getting momentum and lots of interest.
At the conference today, several memorandums of understanding are being announced for demonstration projects. Among them:
• A district heating solution in downtown Marathon that is expected to displace a huge amount of heating costs.
• Wahkohtowin Development Corp., is a collection of six First Nations who are working with the communities of Wawa and Chapleau who will be part of a hundred-mile pellet diet. That will see the swapping out of inefficient wood stoves, propane and diesel furnaces with a conversion to biomass pellets.
• Another memorandum of understanding is a biomass project with a remote First Nation to provide heat to the community, greenhouse for fresh food and inputs for value-added processing.
Iain Angus is impressed the remarkable number of companies from Finland who have come here “because they see an opportunity that we are blind to, by and large.”
“Biomass — whether it is in the form of pellets or chips and even sawdust — time has come in Canada,” said Angus who is co-chair of the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force.
Both the Atikokan and Thunder Bay generating stations are also playing a role in biomass economy now that they no longer burn coal to produce electricity, said Angus. The Atikokan generating station has already been converted and a partial conversion of the Thunder Bay generating station will cost $5 million.