Pierre Billard is the co-founder of Sol-Air Consultants. He proposed local municipalities try and harness thermal discharge from industrial plants to use as a new energy source. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Conference highlights potential shift in food production

“Despite tree planting efforts, the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) will never reach 30 per cent tree cover,” said Louis Prévost.

Those words rang out at the St-Isidore recreation centre as UCPR’s director of planning and forestry was addressing municipal representatives gathered for the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario’s conference last Wednesday.

“Too many trees have been cut,” continued Prévost. “It’s wishful thinking to believe that, planting trees year after year, we’ll ever achieve the 30 per cent.”

While Prévost mentioned the 30 per cent figure, he left out a few crucial details.

That number was established by the federal Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and is described as being a “high-risk approach that may only support less than one half of the potential species richness, and marginally healthy aquatic systems.”

Prévost said UCPR is buying land solely around the Larose Forest to help maintain forest cover. The money used comes from the forest’s reserve fund, which itself is replenished with a percentage of the profits made from woodlots in the forest.

According to Prévost, changes are coming that will allow for more funds to be dedicated to land acquisitions.

Deforestation has been a lengthy debate in the region—one with no end in sight. The latest twist has been UCPR’s offer to delegate power to member municipalities, so they can create bylaws surrounding the practice.

Only two municipalities have officially responded: Casselman accepted the delegation, though its forest cover is negligible, while Alfred-Plantagenet refused taking on the responsibilities.

The Nation confirmed it intends to accept the delegation of power, seeing it as a tool at its disposal if necessary. François St. Amour, mayor of The Nation, makes it clear though, that the municipality has no intention to put in regulations any time soon.

And as reported last week, Champlain Township also rejected the responsibility.

Louis Prévost is the director of forestry and planning for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Following Prévost’s presentation at the conference, Simon Rozon, councillor for East Hawkesbury, stood up to say he disagreed with UCPR off-loading the power to local municipalities, calling the subject too “touchy.”

New energy source

Prévost’s presentation was part of a panel discussion about municipalities facing environmental challenges.

Pascal Billard is the co-founder of Sol-Air Consultants, a firm dedicated to environmental consulting in the agri-food sector. His presentation was focused on the issue of proper waste management. While he spoke about strategies to improve traditional waste disposal and diversion, such as recycling and composting, he also mentioned harnessing thermal discharge as an energy source.

Thermal discharge is often associated with nuclear power plants and is the result of using water as a coolant. Thermal pollution happens when heated water is dumped back into the environment, resulting in decreased oxygen levels, which affect the local ecosystem. 

While UCPR isn’t courting any nuclear plants, thermal discharge is a byproduct of many industries. This is where Billard said UCPR could focus its efforts—attracting industrial plants and that have an integrated system to capture those discharges. Billard said that energy could then be used for greenhouses or similar food production opportunities.

Billard outlined a few pros and cons to this process. Pros: this energy is absolutely free; having an integrated system could attract secondary businesses like greenhouses to neighbour industrial plants; from a business perspective, it seems more environmentally friendly. Cons: energy dependency makes so there’s a risk that if plants shutter early, you’ve lost a power source; it’s also harder—though not impossible—to retrofit a capture system than to build new.

To reaffirm the idea of potential secondary food industries—that don’t depend so much on clearcutting—Billard mentioned Saint-Félicien’s Serres Toundra. The greenhouses are powered by the captured thermal discharge of a nearby papermill. According to Billard, the company produces about 9,000 tons of cucumbers year-round.

When it comes to the role of municipalities when facing environmental challenges, Billard said, “the goal isn’t to put the entire responsibility on the municipality’s shoulders.” Rather, municipalities should be looking to create incentives to attract businesses that will do the heavy-lifting in being more environmentally friendly.

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