4 Mai 2018

Turning Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from duty into opportunity

Targets of the EIA procedure is to engage local people to a project and receive general acceptance

As most of our readers are aware, NC Partnering is actively promoting the KaiCell Fibers biorefinery venture destined for Paltamo in the Kainuu region of northeast Finland. This project is by now well into the EIA stage, in which a comprehensive analysis is made of the proposed mill’s impact on its surrounding area. The findings of the EIA are essential elements in the next step towards making the biorefinery a reality: the permit application process.

The EIA work is conducted by the field’s leading expert Pöyry, and managed from KaiCell’s side by Technical Director Vesa Mikkonen, who in this article discusses the benefits that flow from a well-conducted process.

For a greenfield project in Finland, the environment permit is the most essential license, which has direct influence on the investment cost and future business opportunities. Environmental permits are handled in Finland at regional state administrative agencies under control of ministry of environment. Implementation related permits are handled at regional or municipal level. Industrial utilization or introduction of a new chemical on European market requires also approval from European Chemical Agency (ECHA).

Renovations of existing outdated mills tend to reduce emissions in general despite of increase in production rate. Replacement investments are also seen as a guarantee for continuity and survival of the jobs far in future. In greenfield project local people lack experience of the mill and nobody is directly dependent on the mill. People who have no connection to the mill, tend to be more suspicious on the environmental impacts and changes of the landscape. The authorities have either history database which to compare the estimated future emission levels and impacts to the environment. This is why a greenfield project requires more effort and collaboration with local stakeholders to overcome prejudices than renovation of an existing mill.

In case of a biorefinery utilising northern soft wood, the negative impacts of the mill appear locally while the positive economical impacts are spread through the raw material purchase around the province. The raw material mounts roughly two thirds of the total direct production costs and this is spread almost in proportion to growing forest around the wood procurement area. The actual biorefinery creates at mill site about 20% of total increase on job opportunities created directly by the mill. Northern softwood is also always harvested from naturally growing forests instead of plantations. In case of KCF biorefinery, wood procurement is based 100% on sustainable forestry and that’s why the environmental impacts of wood procurement are scarce. Sustainable forestry has even been found to improve forest growth rate and thus enhance binding of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Large projects, which may have impacts to the environment and surrounding society are subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The procedure is meant to examine and to bring into publicity the positive and negative impacts of the intended project. This makes it possible to estimate, if the intended business is beneficial to the society compared to possible environmental losses. General principle is that habitants of endangered organisms must not be destroyed or significant pollution of environment must not happen.

Targets of the EIA procedure is to engage local people to the project and receive general acceptance. While distributing information of the project and how the mill will influence on the environment and local business opportunities, you are also likely to hear silent knowledge of local nature conditions. When people participate in the project and see that matters bothering them are taken in serious, criticism calms down. In today world, some opponents always appear with imaginary threats, which tend to be generous against all industrial projects representing any smoke stack industries.

During the EIA process of a biorefinery thorough study is done in advance, to identify impacts to the nature around the mill, disturbance to the surrounding community and availability of the forest resources. The aim is to ensure and make necessary plans to prevent any significant damages to happen to the nature or to the surrounding community. The procedure also prepares necessary information for the application of environmental permit to be done later as well as for other necessary permits, which are needed for the project. Essential part of EIA of a biorefinery in Finland is to compare the environmental losses to the direct economic benefits created by the business of the new mill.

To achieve the goals, workshops and collaboration with local stakeholders is important and must not be omitted. The closer the mill, the more suspicious the project is seen. Often the question is of mistrust, which can be swept away by introducing face to the project. Public hearing of local people is necessary in front of law but supports poorly mutual contribution. Smaller workshop-type targeted groups work better in this respect and create true contribution and discussion about the matters that bother local people.

Impacts to water, air and surrounding community are examined by qualified professionals with the aid of computer modelling. In Finland, authorities put a lot of attention on the results of this computer modelling. In the case of a biorefinery, the biggest impacts come to the water. Despite of this, people living close to the mill site are mostly worried about noise and changes of the landscape view, which they can sense concretely in daily life.

Source: NC Partnering Newsletter 4/2018, 2018-04-30.

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