Note to Nova Scotia Power: don’t burn green wood or wood left out in the rain. And don’t sign contracts with an affiliated company that dings you for energy you didn’t use.
Along with revealing such remarkable management practices, new evidence confirms the per-megawatt cost of burning biomass at the utility’s power plant in Point Tupper has risen while energy generated at the plant has fallen.
Yet again, the mind-boggling and otherwise clandestine inner workings of the power monopoly are being made public, piecemeal fashion, in documents filed with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board as part of a requested hike in the base cost of fuel. Starting Jan. 1, the utility intends to add $111.4 million to the base cost of fuel already charged to ratepayers, bringing it to $562.1 million a year.
In response to questions posed by a group of large industrial customers, Nova Scotia Power reported that its fuel stock of chips and bark had a lower energy content than originally hoped, yet cost more to harvest and transport than planned.
The utility also indicated it had been burning green wood chips and damp bark.
The winter fuel blend at the plant consists mostly of “biomass chipped and delivered to the plant directly from the forest,” the utility noted, “and supplemented with bark delivered directly from source.”
This presumably means bark sourced from the neighbouring paper mill owned by Port Hawkesbury Paper.
To achieve a “reasonable moisture content” for its winter fuel, the utility now intends to make sure more of the roundwood being sent for chipping has been “stored and dried” after harvest. It also plans to use more bark that has been delivered dry and stored out of the rain.
People who burn wood to heat their homes will no doubt find it astonishing that green and damp wood fibre has been burned to produce electricity, a portion of which is lost in transmission, anyway. End this madness now! Biomass works best as a direct heat source that efficiently burns waste products and also produces steam for related industries in direct proximity to a power plant.
The Point Tupper plant also has a faulty electrostatic precipitator, which controls particulate emissions.
Repairs were due this month, but this problem forced the utility to further reduce power generation at the plant.
Meanwhile, the utility plans to scale back on expensive electricity from the Emera-owned biomass plant in Brooklyn, near the former Bowater Mersey paper mill.
Emera Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, Emera Inc., bought the biomass plant for $25 million after Resolute Forest Products Inc. shut down the Bowater Mersey paper mill in 2012 and sold its assets.
Aspects of the long-term power deal struck between Nova Scotia Power and Emera Energy are detailed in the same series of documents filed with the review board.
Nova Scotia Power pays Emera Energy either for “capacity energy,” which refers to electricity delivered by the Brooklyn plant, or for “decremental energy,” which is the difference between the amount of electricity delivered on any given day and the maximum load Brooklyn could have served if Nova Scotia Power had needed it. The utility confirms it pays for power one way or the other, “regardless of whether Brooklyn is dispatched.”
The same string of correspondence explains that “the cost to pay Brooklyn to run is so much higher” than other power sources that it is often cheaper to buy less of this power or none at all.
More light still needs to be shed on this power deal, which is backed up by a sweet arrangement with the provincial government. That side agreement grants Emera Energy special access to Crown land as needed, to reduce the price risk of buying biomass sourced from private woodlots, while still securing a steady supply of fibre for the plant.
Government support for biomass power also comes from politically motivated provincial regulations that make the Point Tupper plant a must-run facility, even when it is more costly to dispatch electricity from this plant than from plants firing coal or natural gas.
When government meddling is added to this mix of a questionable power deal at one biomass plant and questionable management practices at another, surely it is time for a thorough and public examination of the biomass mess.