Aternative Energy Backgrounder

Highlights of the OBAC Alternative StrategyCanola.jpg

The Context

The Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) was formed in 2005 with a purpose, “To work to ensure sustainable development and resiliency for the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition region”.

With financial support from the provincial government OBAC is led by a Board of Directors of the region’s Mayors and Regional District Chairs. OBAC is working with its member communities, First Nations, all levels of government, industry and sector representatives, academic institutions, and allied partner organizations to develop regional diversification plans that build resilient communities during and after the pine beetle epidemic. OBAC is putting forward long-term strategies that are designed to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

The OBAC region spans more than thirteen million hectares from Smithers to Valemount, and includes two regional districts and their rural constituents, twelve municipalities, and more than twenty First Nations communities. At least fifty percent of our region’s forests are pine and thirty-seven percent of the jobs in the region depend directly on forestry. Eighty percent of the mature pine forest is expected to be dead within six years as a result of the mountain pine beetle epidemic currently afflicting the forests of central BC.

The purpose of this strategy is to identify what actions need to be taken by the provincial and federal governments in order to support responsible and sustainable growth in the region’s alternative energy sector. This strategy also identifies what actions local governments, First Nations, and industry leaders can take individually, collectively and in concert with senior governments to achieve this goal.

There are a variety of alternative energy sources and technologies that can be employed in the region. Across the spectrum of opportunities, the OBAC region is particularly well positioned to produce wood biomass based energy as a result of its very productive forests and its existing forest management and harvesting capabilities. Currently the alternative energy sector in the region is small however; there is considerable potential for growth. At present there is a very high demand for energy worldwide and both demand and prices are expected to continue to increase.

Our hope is that this Alternative Energy Strategy inspires the private and public sectors to drive toward enhanced use of alternative energy for industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential applications. The communities look forward to working with the alternative energy sector and welcome the growth of this important sector in our region.

The Vision

The communities of the OBAC region envision a future in which energy production from alternative sources is efficient, sustainable, makes effective use of local resources and provides tangible and substantial benefits to the economy and environment of the region. OBAC sees a region in which the alternative energy industry supports regional economic diversification through an integrated approach that complements its existing industry.

Alternative energy can offer OBAC residents opportunities for the maintenance of existing employment, the creation of new business and jobs, reduced energy imports, and a better quality of life. Responsible and sustainable development of alternative energy resources adheres to the highest system standards and adopt a balanced use of resources.

Through the production and uptake of alternative energy, the OBAC region can become a provider of clean energy products and can continue to enjoy a healthy living environment for both residents and visitors. As well, both regional employment and wealth can be increased. Additionally, the diversion of wood biomass away from open-burning in the field to conversion to an energy product has the potential to significantly improve air quality in many parts of the OBAC region. In 10 years time, OBAC communities want to be the home to a robust alternative energy sector that:

Objective 1. Meets a significant proportion of the region’s energy needs from alternative energy sources in order to reduce or eliminate dependence on imported fossil fuels for heating and power generation, and to retain wealth generated from energy related products and services in the region.

Objective 2. Develops regional expertise in research, development, manufacturing and installation of alternative energy technologies that can be used regionally and exported elsewhere in Canada and to the world.

Objective 3. Makes use of available fibre, including the fibre resulting from the mountain pine beetle epidemic, to produce bioenergy.

Objective 4. Retains regional expertise in the forest sector by creating new forest product opportunities in the alternative energy sector.

Objective 5. Grows regional capacities to train and retain the required workforce.

Objective 6. Contributes to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

The Alternative Energy strategy identifies five recommendations and 38 actions that if implemented, will enable the OBAC region to meet these objectives and achieve its vision.

The Opportunities

The prosperity of the OBAC region has long been reliant on its timber resources. However, the mountain pine beetle epidemic is expected to diminish opportunities in the traditional forestry sector for several decades. The cost of conventional energy in North America has increased substantially over the last five years and is expected to continue to increase. The region is well positioned to use a portion of its considerable wood and other resources for the production of energy. The increased production and use of alternative energy in the region can provide important economic, social, and environmental benefits to the region. These benefits include the creation of new manufacturing and service businesses and related jobs, the maintenance of existing forest sector employment, reduced energy imports, and reduced emissions from fossil fuels. The region has a number of existing alternative energy projects and good potential for further growth. The technologies include biomass for heat and power generation, wind power, small and micro-hydropower, geothermal power, geo-exchange systems, solar PV, solar thermal energy, and energy from waste. Their use can be accomplished in a way that maintains or improves the environmental quality in the region.

Currently the region is home to a number of wood pellet plants which will continue to be an important of the regional economy.

A total of 150 MW of alternative electrical power generation capacity is in place or is planned for the region. There is sufficient roadside wood residue available for another 200 MW. Therefore, based on the estimated current use of 400 MW, the region could become a net exporter of electricity if other resources, such as wind and hydro, were also developed. Likewise, natural gas and heating oil could be replaced with biomass and solar energy, as well as geo-exchange systems in many cases. It is not unrealistic to believe that net energy exporter status could be achieved within the next ten to twenty years. There are however major challenges which must be addressed if this is to be achieved. These challenges are described in Section 4 of the strategy and include financing, energy pricing, and the availability of skilled workers. In the case of biomass power and heat production, a major barrier is the cost of collecting and transporting wood fibre from the land base to an energy facility.

The OBAC region is also rich in human resources, with a well established and specialized forestry work force that that can be applied directly to the supply of wood biomass for heat, power and energy product production. There is also strong potential for First Nations to gain direct benefits from this development through harvesting and forest management and, tenure opportunities as well as through heat and power alternatives for off-grid communities.

The Recommendations – Overcoming Barriers, Seizing Opportunities

While many of the OBAC region’s assets position it to develop a robust alternative energy sector there are decisions which must be taken and work to be done to enable this happen. OBAC recommends that local and First Nations governments, the Provincial and Federal governments, industry, the knowledge transfer and educational institutions and interest groups work together to grow the alternative energy sector in the region. The OBAC communities are confident that, if the strategy is implemented, jobs and sustainable wealth will follow.

Recommendation 1:

Remove impediments to the flow of wood fibre and other fibrous fuels to biomass energy projects.

Recommendation 2:

Conduct research on alternative energy opportunities and make relevant information readily available to industry and government decision makers.

Recommendation 3:

Provide “Leadership by Example” alternative energy programs and initiatives at federal, provincial, and local government levels.

Recommendation 4:

Increase the regional use of alternative energy systems to provide overall economic, social and environmental benefits.

Recommendation 5:

Provide training and certification for installation and systems operation to help build regional expertise in alternative energy.

Out of each recommendation flow several specific actions, some of which are short-term and can be accomplished within a year, and other, more long-term actions, that may take five years or more to accomplish. The detailed actions, rationales, and timelines are presented under each of these recommendations in Section 6 of the full strategy.

There are 38 actions proposed across these recommendations that can be taken to build a conducive environment for alternative energy production. Some selected actions where the provincial government can lead or make an important contribution include:

  • Consider allocating the various types of wood fibre to energy and non-energy industries based on the overall social and economic benefits
  • Establish new forest tenures that provide the right to utilize roadside residue from ongoing forestry operations
  • Evaluate the economic, social and environmental benefits of providing technology specific power pricing regimes for biomass energy projects utilizing roadside debris and beetle-killed pine
  • When pine stands are no longer viable for the production of conventional forest products, provide financial incentives that encourage their harvest for the production of energy. These incentives should be in place where overall economic, social, and environmental benefits warrant this use
  • Locate the new chair for Advanced Bioenergy Technologies at UNBC and survey the biomass energy industry to identify current key applied research needs and priorities for the Advanced Bioenergy Chair
  • Conduct research into the feasibility of planting fast-growing tree species such as poplar on some parcels affected by pine beetle in order to generate a long-term biomass energy crop for electricity generation
  • Engage with First Nations communities and work on areas of mutual concern and interest relating to the use of alternative energy technologies
  • Streamline the regulatory process and recognize the low environmental impacts of clean and sustainable projects in the permitting process by reviewing:
  • BC Building Code;
  • CSA approvals; and
  • Water licensing fees
  • Environmental Assessment Requirements
  • Implement alternative energy demonstration projects
  • Assess the potential for synergies between new alternative energy projects, industrial developments, such as mining, and the energy needs of First Nations and other rural communities
  • Design a process that allows for transmission upgrades and extensions whenever several new alternative power projects exist in the same area and could be connected
  • Develop innovative financing options to encourage new alternative energy projects in the region and consider the creation of a regional alternative energy utility that would develop and operate energy projects throughout the region on behalf of OBAC communities
  • Consider direct public investment in large scale alternative energy projects where they can provide a significant portion of the region and province’s future electrical needs. Public-private partnerships should also be considered
  • Create innovative secondary and post-secondary education and training opportunities to train technicians and professionals ready to drive the development of this new sector in the region and beyond.

Implementing these actions and the other actions proposed in Section 6 of the strategy and, overall implementation of this strategy will require key and timely decisions by the Provincial and Federal Governments.