In June 2017 the Yukon Chamber of Commerce (YCC) and the Yukon Wood Products Association (YWPA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the objective of providing mutual support to private sector businesses across the Yukon. The MOU has contributed positively to both organizations as a way to improve opportunities for communications as well as community-based business development.
The Yukon depends upon imported fossil fuels for transportation and building heat. The abundant forest resources of the Yukon represent a significant economic development opportunity for a locally sourced energy industry.
The Yukon Biomass Energy Strategy states that Yukon imports approximately 50 million dollars’ worth of fossil fuels to heat buildings. Virtually all of this money leaks out of the Yukon and Canadian economies to the USA. Forest-based biomass energy represents an economic development opportunity for the Yukon to reduce this leakage, and at the same time encourage the growth of the Yukon biomass sector.
By creating policy conditions for entrepreneurial investment in biomass energy the concept of a Yukon based “200 km energy diet” becomes a reality.
Biomass provides the solution to a number of environmental, social and economic problems facing Yukoners. There are two easily identifiable problems facing the Yukon at this time; firstly, the consumption of imported fossil fuels represents a significant leakage of wealth from the Yukon and local community economies. This includes the negative contribution of our energy consumption to harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Secondly, there is a growing risk that Yukon communities will experience the consequences of a catastrophic forest fire.
The YWPA has identified that the primary economic value of the Yukon’s forest is in the energy that is stored within them. Unlike the forest industries in southern Canada where the production of biomass energy is residual to lumber production, Yukon would produce energy first and lumber would be a residual byproduct. Biomass is a renewable, carbon neutral, energy source that can be produced within 200 kilometres of the point of consumption. Currently, the biomass industry targets forests that have been damaged by bark beetles and forest fires. The underlying forest management principle is forest renewal and sustainability. The industry is almost exclusively based upon the production of cordwood for consumption in the home heating market. Approximately 20,000 m3 of timber are harvested each year by about 60 commercial harvesting companies. There is an additional 25% waste and residue biomass left in the woods at the cut block that can and should be utilized in the form of wood chips for large-scale biomass boiler systems.
There is growing concern that Yukon communities (particularly Whitehorse, Southern Lakes and Watson Lake) are in grave danger with regard to catastrophic forest fires. The Yukon should undertake forest fuel reduction programs, which will create a large amount of biomass. The economic value of the timber removed from fire smart, pre-fire event control lines and stand conversion operations should be utilized as part of the biomass energy production enterprise. If and when landscape level forest fuel abatement projects occur, the biomass produced should not be given away for free, wasted or burned on site.
There are a number of direct benefits to the Yukon with regard to a logical and strategic approach to heating with renewable carbon-neutral biomass.