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Quebec unlocks Canada’s bioenergy industry

Quebec is revolutionizing the relationship between towns and the forests around them in an effort to stop the hemorrhaging of local jobs from the struggling forest industry. The solution is simple: let regional bodies decide who gets to use the wood. In Canada, each province has a different system for allocating wood, and today vast swathes of forests are contracted to large pulp and paper companies or sawmills, many of which are shut or shutting down. The system blocks local small and medium enterprises that want to do something new and innovative with the resource from accessing the forest fibre.


March 10, 2010
March 10, 2010
By Crystal Luxmore

In the new Quebec scheme, entrepreneurs with ideas like turning the wood into renewable energy and products get a turn at bat. The theory is that by looking out for best local interests, regional bodies will be able to suggest who could have access to forest biomass to maximize local development.

Experts from all of Canada’s forest-rich provinces compared policies for accessing fibre on a provincial panel at the Canadian Bioenergy Association’s (CanBio) annual conference in Edmonton in October. “We tabled the issue because CanBio wants to help provinces learn from one another and establish methods to allocate harvest residues more efficiently,” said Doug Bradley, Executive Director and President of the Canadian Bioenergy Association.  

So far, Quebec’s scheme has the most promise for biomass producers and municipalities looking to rejuvenate their failing forest economies, says Bradley.  And there are a lot of desperate communities; 62 mills have closed in Canada in the last six years, according to the Ontario Forest Industries Association.

The Canadian Bioenergy Association suggests that other provinces consider approaches like that taken by Quebec. Launched in June 2008, the Biomass Allocation Program gives 17 regional economic development boards, (known as conferences of elected officers or CRE’s), the possibility to analyze proposals and based on these demands and the Ministry of Natural Resources’ demands, recommend proponents for five-year contracts of forest resources.

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CRE’s are made up of local stakeholders, from town mayors, and citizens from different socio-economic sectors. Proposals are evaluated on a range of factors including profitability, innovation, local acceptance, environmental gains and creating quality jobs. The final decision over awarding contracts rests with the Minister of Natural Resources. 

The program used FP Innovations’ BIOS-MAP to give each region a precise picture of what type of biomass it has available for allocation, like tree tops, branches and harvested slash. Regions have presented a vision for creating a biomass supply chain and all 17 CRE’s will have issued their call for proposals by early 2010.

CanBio will be watching the program’s progress with interest. “We hope it will serve as an example of a practical way for provinces to make forest biomass immediately available to communities suffering from the decline of the traditional forest industry,” said Doug Bradley.

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Find out how Vermont became the state with the most installed biomass-heat in North America on CanBio’s bespoke Bio-Heat Tour and Information Session to Burlington, Vermont on April 20-22. Whether you are in the final planning stages of installing a community bio-heat system, or you’re curious about the potential for biomass heating in small, medium, and large public buildings—this study tour is the perfect opportunity to get a first-hand look at bio-heat installations that work.

CanBio is also organizing two major overseas trade missions and study tours to connect you with international financiers, equipment suppliers and project partners. May 25-27, 2010 CanBio is leading a Financing & Technology Mission to China in collaboration with Australia and the World Bioenergy Association.  CanBio is also organizing a Bioenergy Study Tour to Italy and Austria from May 10-14, 2010.  Go to canbio.ca to view agendas and register.

Crystal Luxmore is a journalist & communications consultant in Toronto.