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What to do with forest waste wood?

Suddenly, everyone's talking about waste wood—not just in the B.C. forests, but everywhere. But not everyone agrees that the solution is chips with everything.

At the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, longtime forestry journalist Ben Parfitt has published a new report, Shortchanged: Tallying the Waste in B.C.'s Logging Industry.

Parfitt argues that we've left enormous quantities of usable wood rotting in the forests:

"By squandering this resource, we’re seriously shortchanging ourselves. If all that so-called 'waste wood' had been brought into mill towns and processed, I calculate that we could have generated another 2,400 jobs each year in this province’s forest industry.

"...If you look at all the carbon stored in those abandoned trees and convert it to CO2, it translates to a 5% increase in BC’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s got significant implications for our climate policy. There is a myth that BC has cleaned up its act, environmentally speaking, from the bad old days of the 80s and 90s, but this research suggests otherwise."

Last month, megawatt, the British Columbia renewable energy blog, reported a B.C. Hydro "bioenergy call":

Under Phase II, BC Hydro will conduct a two-stream call process. The first stream is a competitive call for larger-scale biomass projects. Any form of biomass will be eligible and it will include wood waste sourced from new forest tenure enabled through provincial legislation in May 2008. The target is to acquire 1,000 GW/h per year of energy through this stream. Good news for all of that roadside debris.

The second stream will focus on innovative, community-level electricity supply solutions using biomass. Through a request for qualifications (RFQ), BC Hydro will seek to identify at least two such projects that can provide cost-effective electricity for ratepayers, as well as other quantifiable, local benefits such as improved reliability.

Over in Britain, George Monbiot is not impressed:

We have a bottomless ability to disregard the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics when we encounter a simple solution to complex problems. So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the new miracle. It's a low-carbon regime for the planet which makes the Atkins Diet look healthy: woodchips with everything.

Biomass is suddenly the universal answer to our climate and energy problems. Its advocates claim that it will become the primary source of the world’s heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel (cellulosic ethanol) and aviation fuel (bio-kerosene). Few people stop to wonder how the planet can accommodate these demands and still produce food and preserve wild places.

The Hook suspects the debate will continue.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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