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Biomass plant breaks ground in Fort St. James

The $235 million biomass power generating station Fort St. James Green Energy Project has broken ground.
An infographic highlighting some of the fundamentals of the Fort St. James Green Energy Project.

The Fort St. James Green Energy Project has broken ground.

The $235 million biomass power generating station has begun construction with Spanish firm Iberdrola starting excavation on the site yesterday.

One of two biomass power-generation projects Iberdrola will build for Dalkia, one here and one in Merritt, the company chose to begin construction on the Fort project first.

“We’re extremely excited as a council, as a community and I’m sure as a region,” said Mayor Rob MacDougall about the commencement.

The project did have some delays as partnerships were created and the process moved through the required approval process and financing.

“We had to raise a significant amount of money for the project and that can’t be done overnight,” said Fadi Oubari, of Dalkia Canada. “It took some time to have everybody’s interests aligned.”

After financing was finalized recently, the project has begun to move forward, and while BC Hydro did cancel some power projects, this provides the long-term reliable power  BC Hydro is looking for to supply future energy needs, according to Oubari, and would produce 40 mW of electricity (enough to power an estimated 40,000 homes for a year) and would only be down for one 10-day maintenance period each year. Oubari said the “project is on track” and “there is no risk whatsoever in BC Hydro not honouring their contract” which consists of a 30-year purchase agreement with the company.

MacDougall said the extra time is to be expected with such a major project in a competitive market.

“I think that the extra time ensures that the project will proceed in a flawless manner,” said MacDougall.

The plant is expected to begin producing electricity by the summer of 2016.

The plant is also expected to improve air quality in the area, as it will burn wood waste at higher temperatures and produce less emissions from the mill waste which is currently burned in beehive burners. It will also reduce seasonal roadside burning of slash, as more of this wood would be burned in the biomass plant, again improving air quality.

The hi-tech plant will consume 200,000 dry tonnes of biomass per year, or 440,000 cubic metres.

MacDougall said the plant will provide clean energy and complete the circle of fiber use and create long term job stability.

The close of financing came after Dalkia Canada Inc. partnered with Fengate Capital Management Ltd., who secured the necessary $175 million in debt financing from five banks. Fengatre owns 80 per cent of the project, which Dalkia will operate.

This fall, work will begin to excavate sites for reinforcement of the boiler and silo locations, but the real work will begin next spring.

The Spanish company Iberdrola has been awarded the contract to build the plant, but will require local contractors and is already working with KDL, Apollo, and First Nations.

The plant will create an estimated 250 jobs during the construction phase over the next three years and it is estimated it will create 80 direct and indirect long-term positions with 22 directly operating and maintaining the power plant.

This will add diversity to the local economy, said MacDougall.

“For our community to maintain and attract and maintain its vibrancy you have to have different industries in town and this one complements our processing facilities as far as the forest products,” he said.

The skilled jobs include boiler engineers, and Oubari said they are not worried about finding the required skilled workforce over the nearly three years before the plant is operational.

“We’re a very large company and we’re used to training people,” said Oubari, who also said the company would prefer to hire locally if possible and often in these types of projects workers who do construction for a couple years will sometimes move into operational roles.

Western Bioenergy Inc., owned by Dalkia Canada Inc. first visited Fort St. James in early 2011 for an information session on the proposed project, which they had hoped to begin construction of in 2012.

Once the project received final approval by BC Hydro in the summer of 2011, the company began moving through the process and attaining the financial backing.