The Fort is a go.
BC Hydro released the names of four biomass projects approved to produce power by burning wood waste.
Projects have been approved for Fort St. James, Fraser Lake, Chetwynd and Merritt, and will collectively produce enough power for 70,000 homes annually.
According to BC Hydro, the four projects are worth $300 million in capital spending, should create 1,500 person years of employment and should all be up and running by November of 2016.
The Fraser Lake and Chetwynd projects are going to produce 12 megawatts each, and were proposed by West Fraser Mills Ltd.
The projects approved for Fort St. James and Merritt are two of three proposed by Western BioEnergy Inc., the third, near Burns Lake, was not approved.
This essentially puts the Ditni Yoh Green Energy Project near Burns Lake on hold until the next request for proposals by BC Hydro.
“I’m really disappointed about that just because of that community enthusiasm,” said Harvie Campbell, director of Western BioEnergy Inc.. The Ditni Yoh project was not one of the lower bidders, but Campbell said the hope he has is that the company can get the same community involvement in the two communities where projects have been approved.
Both the Merritt and Fort St. James projects will produce about 40 megawatts of electricity, and use wood waste which would otherwise be left in the bush, or burned in piles.
The Fort St. James biomass power plant would be located 6.3 km north of town, across from the Apollo mill on a small 3.5-hectare site.
The Fort plant would be an estimated investment of $140 million, with approximately 80 employed during construction and 16 employed directly while the plant is in operation, as well as local contractors required for some aspects of the plant maintenance.
The project has a lifespan of 30 years, but could be operated as long as it is maintained and viable.
The plant would give a boost to local forestry economics, according to Campbell, because wood which currently has no value to the logging companies would instead have value by selling it to the plant.
Additionally, even if there was a downturn in the lumber market and mills shut down, the plant would help maintain some stability in harvesting as they would still need to maintain a fiber supply, regardless of the mill demand.
“The whole economics of sawmills would stabilize,” said Campbell.
The benefits go beyond economics as well, since it would be worthwhile bringing the excess out of the bush, air quality in the area would also benefit because there would be no need for roadside burning.
As well, while beehive burners are supposedly being phased out, the local mills do sometimes still burn waste in these when needed, which is also much less efficient and produces more particulates and air pollution.
Campbell also promised the community would be able to recycle household wood waste, which they could then use in the plant.
The proposed biomass generators would use the same technology and basic design in the Fort and Merritt, and would each use about 200,000 dry tonnes of forest residue per year.
The plant is also designed to be air-cooled, reducing the water usage, and eliminating the steam plume from older water-cooled bioenergy plants.
The local site would power the entire Fort community, using about 50 per cent of the plant’s electricity, with the rest going down into the grid towards Vanderhoof. The plant would be connected to the grid using a short 300 m 69 kV transmission line.
Negotiations with First Nations groups in the area were in their initial stages when Western BioEnergy held an information session in June. So far, they had made an offer of 10 per cent equity position in the project and preferred status in providing fibre supply and fibre supply contracting as well as employment with training and apprenticeship programs.
Discussions with the local First Nations, including Nak’azdli, Tl’az’ten and Takla are “still positive, we have a long way to go, but still positive,” according to Campbell.
With the addition of these four projects, BC Hydro will have a total of 16 bioenergy electricity projects which they have electricity purchase agreements with.
“Bioenergy is a cost-effective energy solution that makes sense for B.C. on many fronts – especially for our province’s dynamic forestry industry,” said Forests Minister Steve Thomson. “When compared to other forms of energy, bioenergy projects have higher levels of employment and generate more economic activity.”