The decision to redevelop the former NewPro particle board facility into a wood pellet production plant was celebrated last Monday at the side of a giant pile of wood chips.
Shovels with green ribbons were used to signify the groundbreaking that will happen when construction crews move in soon. Production is expected to start in the third quarter of this calendar year (July to September).
The plant is a major redevelopment of the former NewPro particle board plant along the railroad track. West Fraser, which owns Pacific Inland Resources (PIR) in Smithers, is a partner in the project with a 30 per cent interest.
West Fraser vice president Larry Gardner said the companies have worked together before, and he believes the plant will be a big benefit to the community in jobs and environmentally.
“We look forward to seeing value added to our end products that come out of our sawmill. For us, this gives us a secure outlet for both our sawdust from our sawmill, as well as an opportunity to utilize pulp logs from the bush, which will ultimately reduce the amount of material we have to burn on site in the bush,” said Gardner.
The air should be a bit clearer than when the particle board was fully operational, with at least 60 per cent fewer emissions — not including the smoke reduction from burning fewer slash piles.
About 10 jobs will be created to get those logs that would have otherwise been burned, according to Gardner. Another 20 jobs would need filling at the plant itself.
About 125,000 tonnes of pellets used for electricity generation can be shipped each year to Pinnacle’s Westview Port Terminal in Prince Rupert for export to Asia. That is about 1,200 rail cars.
“About half of that will come from across the street (PIR) as residuals, and then the other half will actually be a recovery of volume that is currently burned … in the forest,” explained Pinnacle Renewable Energy president and chief operating officer Leroy Reitsma.
He said growing up in the area added to the draw of purchasing the property and moving forward with the project. It also fits with Pinnacle’s strategy of expanding export out of the Prince Rupert Westview terminal.
“We’re just responding to growing markets, especially in Asia, and just saw an ability to make something good happen in the community in terms of employment but also super utilization of the resource,” said Reitsma.
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said this was a “good news story for the community.”
“The biggest thing from the community perspective is of course the direct employment, and the fact that these are well paid jobs right in our community. And the folks who fill those jobs will be able to go home and sleep in their own bed at night and contribute to our community whether it’s coaching hockey teams or volunteering and just being a part of the fabric of our town,” said Bachrach.
“Smithers has a long history with the forest industry and it’s going to be an important part of our future.”
He called the reduction in burnt slash piles and the economic benefits a win-win.
“I think when you look at a project like this you have to look at all the different aspects for the community because we want economic development, we want clean air, and we want a resilient, sustainable forest industry. When things come together, it’s good for everybody,” said Bachrach.
“We are honoured to be partnering with West Fraser in Smithers. West Fraser is an industry leader in operational excellence who shares our commitment to safety. The Smithers pellet plant will be our eighth production facility and we are looking forward to creating economic activity and value within the community,” said Reitsma.