The fall of the pulp and paper industry in Nova Scotia opens the door for an emerging bioenergy industry.
Changing of the Guard
The pulp and paper industry in Nova Scotia has been very important since its inception in the 1800s. However, with reduced societal dependence on paper products, and increased automation within production facilities, is the level of public funding this industry receives truly warranted? The loss of employment in this industry has been devastating for rural communities in Nova Scotia and the individuals and families who have suffered as a result deserve this answer: Bioenergy. By shifting from the norm and supporting the biofuel industry, these job losses could be salvaged and even more job opportunities could arise.
History of the Old
Production of pulp and paper products drove our economy for many years because of our abundance of natural resources. Almost eighty percent of the total land area of Nova Scotia is covered by forest. For the better part of eighty years the industry was controlled by three keystone companies: Bowater-Mersey Paper Company Ltd. (Brooklyn, NS), Port Hawkesbury Paper LLP., and Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Pulp Mill (Abercrombie, NS). However, due to highly competitive market conditions and increasing operational costs, Bowater-Mersey closed indefinitely in 2012 and Port Hawkesbury Paper ceased operations on a temporary basis during this year as well. Job loss in the rural communities of Brooklyn and Port Hawkesbury as a result of the closures totalled over 600 jobs.
The Devastation of the Decline
The impact of lost jobs is never solely felt by the mill employees. In rural communities with such small populations, layoffs of this nature create a ripple effect throughout the community, impacting everyone. Many of the individuals that were employed at the mills fall within the baby-boomer generation and haven’t been exposed to diversified training, making it even more difficult to find a job in a hopeless market.
Sadly, the skills honed by the aging working population cannot be easily transferred to jobs within the new economy, as education and training requirements have increased significantly. People of younger generations may be superiorly educated, but they often take their skills out of province due to the lack of job opportunity and security at home. We need to find the future of our province and invest in it. Funding is being pumped into an industry on the decline. Does that sound right to you?
“Either you’re going to go out West or it’s time to move on to another manufacturing field.”- Terry Gerhardt, a former employee of the Bowater-Mersey mill said to the Canadian Press in 2012.
Bring on the New
Bioenergy can be produced from renewable energy sources, such as trees, crops and waste products. The agricultural land availability in Nova Scotia in addition to the vast forests and waste products show definite promise. Developing the industry in Nova Scotia to meet current federal biofuel mandates creates jobs in construction and daily operation of biofuel plants, as well as production of the material (plant, trees, etc.), totalling close to 1,500 jobs, through the Atlantic Council for Bioenergy Co-operative. The growth of the industry will diversify agriculture in the province, enticing the younger population to become involved and creating additional income streams for aging farmers.
The closing of the paper mills allow for the growth of bioenergy
The creation of bioenergy from plant materials follows a similar process as paper making, so some of the equipment can be rejuvenated in the biofuel industry (as well as the skills to operate the equipment). CelluFuel Inc. is a local company that is set to establish a biofuel research and development facility in Brooklyn on the Bowater-Mersey mill site. The plan, through newly licensed methodology, is to transform otherwise low-value wood fibre into renewable diesel fuel. The reconstruction of the facility is set to begin in January 2015 and should be producing biodiesel by March 2015.
“Nova Scotia has a lot to offer emerging clean technology companies, from clean energy resources to a supportive business and policy environment”-Jacquelyn Thayer Scott, interim CEO Innovacorp to Biofuels Journal in 2012.
There are also many other companies researching natural resources in Nova Scotia for use as bioenergy.
Highland Energy Inc. constructed a power plant in 2006 to collect methane gas from the closed Sackville Landfill and transform the gas into energy for provincial electricity. This plant has been running since October 2006, and is expected to run for at least 15 years. The electricity generated from the plant powers up to 2,000 homes.
In 2013, the Port Hawkesbury Biomass Plant started producing electricity and meets as much as 4% of the current electricity demands of Nova Scotia. The biomass material is sourced from our native forests.
The provincial government has begun funding the biofuel industry through projects in their initial development stages. These include projects such as the Clean Technology Fund, Community Based Feed-In Tariff (COMFIT) and Cleaner Energy Framework, as outlined in the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. While these are promising initiatives, additional funding is necessary to sustain and grow the biofuel industry. As mentioned, what is currently funding a dying industry could be utilized more efficiently if the government shifts their focus towards renewable energy.
Change is not always easy, especially when change involves the loss of a local industry that has been supporting rural communities for decades. However, as cleaner, alternative energy becomes more prevalent in today’s society, the loss of the pulp and paper industry could not have happened at a better time. Nova Scotia can now focus our natural and monetary resources on a more sustainable industry that will enhance the economy and provide long-term opportunities in rural communities.
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