Woody biomass-based bioenergy development at the Atikokan power generating station: local perceptions and public opinions
Sanzida Baten, Cassia
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To tackle climate change, reduce air pollution and promote development of renewable energy, the Ontario government is investing in the conversion of the coal-based Atikokan Power Generating Station (APGS) in Atikokan, Ontario, to woody biomass feedstock. This research offers one of the first looks at the perspectives of different individuals and groups on converting woody biomass to energy. Using a combination of study instruments which include literature review, surveys, interviews with key informants, semi-structured interviews, and focus group discussions, this dissertation uses qualitative research to provide a picture of the public’s opinions and attitudes towards the APGS biomass energy development. Given Ontario’s huge and sustainably managed forest resource, woody biomass is expected to be a major component of renewable energy production in Ontario. The move towards renewable energy that replaces fossil fuels with woody biomass will have considerable socio-economic implications for local and First Nation communities living in and around the bioenergy power generating station. Findings indicate that there is wide support for biomass utilization at the APGS by local people, especially since the project would create sustainable employment. The connection of woody biomass-based energy generation and rural community development provides opportunities and challenges for Atikokan’s economic development. Respondents identified economic, environmental and social barriers to biomass utilization, and emphasized trust and transparency as key elements in the successful implementation of the APGS project. As demand for woody biomass-based energy increases, special attention will be needed to ensure and maintain the social, economic and environmental sustainability of biomass use at the APGS. In this research, respondents’ views about biomass utilization for energy mainly focused on forest-related issues rather than energy. In Atikokan much of the project’s social acceptability is directly linked to woody biomass providing job creation and community stability. Given this, it will be important to design policies and projects from a community development perspective to ensure long term community support. Information provided by this research creates a base for discussions as forest biomass energy becomes a vital issue in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, and other regions of the world. This research provides a look at a community’s views using a method that provides breadth of information but that is specific in scope. Further research will be required to determine the reach of these opinions within the stakeholder groups, the general public, and across different regions.