Ontario unveils new plans for forest biomass

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Ontario government has revealed its first Forest Biomass Action Plan, which could have big ramifications for northern communities who rely on the forestry industry.

In an announcement from Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry on Monday, March 28, the plan was revealed as a way to help drive economic growth within the northern regions, and to help ensure the forestry sector remains strong for future generations.

The plan is intended to promote economic opportunities for using two different types of forest biomass. The first is forest biofibre, which is made up of the parts of the tree that aren’t normally used for for more conventional products. These can be tree tops, culled trees, varieties of tree that are unmarketable or trees that are salvaged as a result of a natural disturbance. The other variety of forest biomass included in the plan is mill by-products generated from forest product manufacturing like bark, wood shavings and sawdust.

These lower quality and less desirable wood products can then be used in a number of different and as-yet unrealized way within the region, as the province itself recognizes the sector has an opportunity for growth.

“Innovative uses of forest biomass will create new sources of renewable and environmentally friendly products and ways of doing business,” Rickford said in a press release announcing the province’s plan.

“Our government’s Forest Biomass Action Plan will secure forestry jobs across the north and ensure our province has the materials we need to Build Ontario.”

According to the province, the five-year plan will look to find new uses for forest biomass, along with improving the business environment for forest biomass products and supporting involvement for Indigenous communities in the forest biomass supply chains. The forestry sector is already well-equipped to begin expanding the uses for forest biomass, particularly as it is already highly integrated, with by-products from one mill or producer being used by others for different purposes, such as generating energy or other products.

The release notes that the announcement coincides with with the Hearst-based Calstock Generating Station securing a contract for biomass-fired electricity following Minister of Energy Todd Smith’s direction for the Independent Electricity System Operator to enter into a procurement contract that recognized the station’s importance in the region.

“We know that biomass is essential to our forestry industry, and that the industry is essential to Northern Ontario, which is what makes our government’s action plan a win-win for all,” Smith said.

“Securing biomass-fired electricity generation at Calstock Generating Station will continue to promote clean generation, support small communities and secure jobs across the North while maintaining electricity rate stability for families and businesses.”

The province notes the deelopment of the plan was supported by a diverse working group with interests in forest biomass and included Indigenous partners, businesses and associations like the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, located on Manitoulin Island. The final plan includes input and feedback generated from Indigenous communities and the general public following a “significant consultation process.”

To read more about Ontario’s Forest Biomass Action Plan, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/forest-biomass-action-plan.