THE CHRONICLE HERALD — Nova Scotia is planning the large-scale conversion of its rural buildings – from schools to hospitals – to heat them with wood.

According to a report in the Chronicle HeraId, it will soon release tenders to convert six buildings to biomass heat – most likely in the form of wood chips – with plans to significantly expand the program next year.

“It will be a design, build, maintain type system,” said Lands and Forestry minister Iain Rankin, of the tendering process.

Rankin said the province has a list of 100 buildings that it will consider converting.

The news emerged during an ecological forestry forum held by Rankin’s Department on Tuesday at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill.

The event brought harvesters, sawmill operators, environmentalists, woodlot owners, and pulp mill staff together to hear and respond to the steps being taken to implement an exhaustive study of how forests are managed in Nova Scotia, often dubbed the Lahey Report, after its author University of Kings College president William Lahey.

Among the report’s 45 recommendations was that the province team up with municipal governments and regional development agencies to create small scale wood energy projects using low-quality wood to heat hospitals, schools, government office buildings, and correctional facilities.

The report specifically identifies the Western Region of the province for this project.

“It’s a low carbon source and it’s an opportunity for private woodlot owners,” Julie Towers, deputy minister for Lands and Forestry, told the forum.

Eleven government departments have been working on the planned conversion and economists have been brought in from St. Mary’s University to analyze the project.

Rany Ibrahim, director of economic development and trade for Lands and Forestry has been leading the initiative.

Speaking with a focus group held as part of the forum, Ibrahim acknowledged that the upfront cost of wood heat would likely be higher than for oil.

“But when we buy oil, for every dollar we spend eighty cents go offshore,” said Ibrahim.

“With wood that is reversed, 80 cents of that dollar stay here.”

Wood supply and biomass are loaded topics in this province and around the world.

Biomass has been touted as a form of green energy by governments in Europe because trees growing to replace those cut sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

That theory, along with the conversion of numerous coal-powered plants in the United Kingdom to burn wood chips, some of which come from Nova Scotia, all under the banner of green energy has come under broad criticism.

Rankin said that these small scale facilities, based on similar boilers in Prince Edward Island, would reach efficiency rates of 90-95%.

And that the province would team up with private woodlot owners and sawmills to supply them.

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