Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goin' Wood

I sent this in as an Opinion Piece to the TJ.

Like many, I’ve been thinking of the Graham government’s devotion to phrases such as “self-sufficiency,” “transformational change,” and a non-optional status quo. How can I help it, when I hear them repeated so often?

Unlike most, I had these thoughts in the back of my mind while supervising my son’s birthday party with a dozen of his closest friends. Sam, my son, has reached the ripe-old age of eight and I’m sure many of you can just imagine the energy of those kids as we celebrated at the New Brunswick Museum.


The energy hub concept is itself a hub of Graham’s self-sufficiency agenda.

I leaned over to my friend, who just happens to work at Lepreau, and jokingly said, “Perhaps NB Power should harvest all this energy instead of building Lepreau 2.” We talked of giant hamster wheels and rebuilding the sugar refinery so we’d have a source of fuel. Alternatively, we could direct our business to Ganongs. Such a scheme could increase the birth rate and contribute to the government’s population growth agenda.

Then we realized that pesky child labour laws and the fact that NB Power would likely charge parents for babysitting or providing an exercise facility caused us to scrap the idea.

As silly an idea as this is, it reflects some of the values our government says it cares about – think of new ways to get the job done without relying on outside resources.

This got me to thinking, what is wrong with wood?

We have seen a solid argument for wood energy put together in these pages by Roy MacMullin and Carl Duivenvoorden. We even have New Brunswick forestry research scientists like Peter Salonius and George Jenkins who can help us develop an in-house solution. I just thought I’d add an additional economic argument to the mix.

According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick has approximately 300,000 residences. Approximately 50%, or 150,000 residences are heated primarily by electric heat.

Suppose the New Brunswick government purchased and installed a woodstove heating system for each of these residences. At a cost of approximately $3,000 per installation the cost to the government would be $450 million.

Because woodstove heat production takes place onsite, there is little energy loss due to transmission, thus contributing to high efficiency. As Rick Roth has mentioned (Jan. 25), pellet stoves or using briquettes limits emissions.

We could re-employ some of our forestry workers and help private woodlot owners. Maybe we would construct or expand pellet and briquette plants and develop woodstove manufacturing. Perhaps we could use some of Mr. Harper’s $30 million to begin the projects. Reducing our reliance on some of our fossil fuel-burning generation plants would also contribute to the government’s Climate Change Action Plan.

Now $450 million is not chump change, but it pales in comparison to the projected $6-7 billion cost of building Lepreau 2 and is likely significantly less than the cost of the risk assurance that the Graham government says it is willing to bear to see the project through. It is less than a third of the projected refurbishment cost of the existing Lepreau facility.

I am not saying that wood heat is the only solution; energy conservation must be at the heart of any solution. Nor do I think that direct government investment is the only method of delivery. Roy MacMullin has presented an interesting scheme (“Build a wood-fired energy market,” Jan. 19).

However, I think that the Graham government has blinded itself to anything but large-scale energy projects like LNG terminals, a new refinery, and new nuclear reactors. Indeed, both the Lord and Graham governments have completely overlooked the possibility of a natural gas co-generation plant near Sussex which would use New Brunswick gas and provide high-paying jobs to people already in the province. As far as we know, Corridor Resources is still open to the idea.

The government should take its own advice and develop a plan that is truly different from the status quo and that embraces change that truly develops the self-sufficiency of all New Brunswickers rather than the corporate few.

Rob Moir is an economics professor at UNBSJ. In 2005-06, he ran as an NDP candidate in the federal riding of Fundy Royal. He lives on the Kingston Peninsula with his wife, Megan and their two children, Sam and Gwyneth.

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