Pro metsä award-winner Pertti Vanhala: “There’s a lot of local energy and income for entrepreneurs in the region’s young, unmanaged forests” | Oulun Energia

17.06.2022

Finland has as much as a million hectares of young, unmanaged forest awaiting management. These forests have enormous latent renewable energy potential. The wood fuel obtained from thinning would be enough to replace the amount of wood chippings Finland buys from Russia for as much as 20 years,” says Pertti Vanhala, Business Director, Energy Business at Oulun Energia.

Vanhala, who has recently received the Finnish Forest Centre’s Pro metsä award, would like forestry to be seen more strongly as part of the energy business and vice versa.

Stakeholders can benefit greatly from forest management - it generates income for forest owners, work for machine entrepreneurs and renewable energy for power companies. Thinning also means high-quality wood material for other wood users, such as the pulp and sawmill industries.

Vanhala has tirelessly kept the matter alive throughout his career but large organisations are slow to change course.

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“The forest industry still focuses on sturdier wood material such as logs and pulpwood and is geared towards pulp mills and sawmill operations. The economic, energy-producing potential of thinning has been somewhat overlooked.

All the same, Vanhala believes that there will be a change and that forestry will feature more prominently in the energy sector. He has been a bridge builder during his career in the sawmill industry, forest management services, as a fuel wood supplier and now in the energy sector. He views things not just from his own perspective but from that of the entire sector. These were among the criteria for which the Finnish Forest Centre recently gave Vanhala the Pro metsä award.

“I feel that by managing young forests we are promoting better living conditions for us all in nature. By taking the right actions, we also ensure biodiversity. Not only that, but entrepreneurs can also earn money from fuel wood and power plants can produce carbon-neutral energy and district heat.”

He says that he launched the local energy concept at Oulun Energia ten years ago. The concept is based on the principle that the fuels used to heat Oulu should come from a radius one thousand times the height of the power plant smokestack. Based on this formula, Oulun Energia sources its local energy from within a radius of 130 kilometres of the plant. This means that the more than €40 million the Group spends on sourcing fuel each year is income for local people.

Vanhala believes that going forward, it will be increasingly possible to produce energy using non-combustion technologies and that waste energy will be better recovered. All the same, wood biomass will continue to have a major role for a long time to come as energy production transits towards carbon neutrality.

In line with sustainable values, Oulun Energia also turns the ash from burning fuel wood into a fertiliser to promote forest growth.

“We don’t want to just take wood from the forest but to return the ash from burning fuel wood to the forest to create a new substrate for tree growth and thus support carbon sequestration.”