Report shows entire logs are being used at Northwest wood pellet plants
A report from a progressive think tank is raising concerns that the wood pellet industry in British Columbia is using entire logged trees and converting them into wood pellets, despite advertising that they mainly use by-products from sawmills.
In particular, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives examined Pinnacle Renewable Energy, a B.C.-based company that exports wood pellets to the U.K., which uses them as biofuel for energy.
Pinnacle’s website says they take waste by-products from sawmills and turn them into pellets. However, visuals obtained by the environment group Stand.earth show entire logs lying in Pinnacle’s plants in Smithers, Burns Lake and Houston.
“You typically see the [wood pellet] industry and government alike referring to the industry using a residual product,” said CCPA Resource Policy Analyst Ben Parfitt, who wrote the report. “You do not see them volunteering that, in fact, a portion – and perhaps, a significant portion – of what these mills are actually using are whole logs.”
In an emailed statement to CFTK-TV, Pinnacle spokesperson Karen Brandt said their wood pellets are sourced entirely from the residuals left from sawmilling or harvesting, or from logs that have been rejected by producers such as sawmills and pulp mills.
Parfitt says many of the trees photographed are indeed too small for a sawmill, but he says that’s not the case with all of them.
“There's also visual evidence from these pellet mill operations that, indeed, there are larger-diameter or bigger logs that are quite capable of getting run through a sawmill, and those logs as well are ending up in the pellet mill yards in the Northwest.”
Parfitt also raised concerns about the economic value of the industry, which he says makes up one half of one per cent of forestry jobs in the province but uses 12 per cent of its wood supply.
“There's a very large amount of wood that we know is going to the pellet industry, and the pellet industry is one of the lowest value producers in the province in terms of jobs per unit of wood.”
Instead, Parfitt says much of the wood used in the pellet industry would be better used to make other products, such as wood-based plastics, pulp and paper products and wood-based fibres that could be used to make surgical masks.
“There is a huge range of products that can be made from ‘quote-unquote’ waste-wood in the form of chips and sawdust. The pellet industry can only make one product, and that product is pellets.”
Parfitt is calling on the province to temporarily halt the approval of new pellet mills. In particular, his eyes are on Fort Nelson, where Peak Renewables is hoping to build the largest pellet mill in Canada.