Most citizens of Merritt are pleased that Western BioEnergy has been awarded a contract to build a bioenergy facility in the Tolko yard. To be known as the Merritt Green Energy Project, this facility will not only produce much needed electricity for the valley, it will also help with air quality.

There are however some who clearly do not understand the implications of the project. It is understandable that without a clear understanding of the project, some people might oppose the project, given the history of wood burning and air quality in the Nicola Valley. There has been an effort to build opposition to the project by referring to the project as an incinerator, thereby raising the spectre of the dirty old beehive burners that once dotted our landscape. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A look at biomass projects that are up and running in B.C. will shed light on how wood energy has changed.

At the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), a modern wood energy system using the “gasification” method of combustion is performing very well. In fact compared to systems fuelled by natural gas, the UNBC system produces half the emissions. When compared with the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for gas fired systems, the UNBC plant emits half the particulate, 11 times less volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 21 times less carbon monoxide. It has in fact been acknowledged that the UNBC system has improved air quality in Prince George.

The fuel source must also be considered when measuring the impact of an energy source on the environment. Natural gas has always been held up as a clean fuel source. However, it is fossil fuel, thereby contributing to the build up of carbon in our atmosphere. The impact of natural gas extraction is also often not considered. Off-gassing and other problems at well sites have always been problematic. The development of shale gas will also have a negative impact on our water resources. The less gas we use the better it is for the environment.

The woody biomass fuel used by the Merritt Green Energy project has several positive implications for the environment. It is a renewable energy source, and it would is a source that would otherwise go to waste.

Wood waste from mills is now trucked out of town, often great distances, thereby consuming significant amounts of fossil fuel (diesel). A great deal of wood is piled up and burned in slash piles every fall. Depending on the wind, this smoke often drifts into residential areas in our valley. Wood is also stacked and burned to reduce fuel on the forest floor. This also can result in smoke in residential areas. Any deadwood that is left in the forest to rot will release its CO and methane and other gasses as part of the rotting process.

Rather than letting this wood material go to waste, a bioenergy project will capture its energy and put it to use providing clean power for industrial, commercial and residential use in the valley.

Projects like the Merritt Green Energy Project not only produce jobs and energy for the valley, they protect our environment. The global investment in green energy has grown from $35 billion in 2004 to $250 billion last year. This project could be the first of many for our valley. It’s clean and green, and it should be part of our future.

Tim Larsen