Reviving the Fort St. James Green Energy Project

BioNorth Energy, a joint partnership between Nexus PMG and an Indigenous community, purchased and reopened a shuttered biomass plant in Fort St. James, British Columbia.
By Raj Daniels | April 18, 2022

The Fort St. James Green Energy Project in northern British Columbia first began commercial operations in late 2017. The 40-MW facility provided clean energy to the province, directly employing 38 individuals. But in June 2021, the facility ceased operations, leaving the bulk of a 30-year electricity purchase agreement and 20-year forestry license for fiber supply on the table. In mid-October 2021, it was announced that BioNorth Energy, a joint partnership  between Nexus PMG and an Indigenous community, had signed a purchase agreement to acquire the facility. Its revival has helped B.C. move toward its goal of a low-carbon economy.

Significance of Biomass in B.C.
Biomass energy may not receive the attention other green energy sources such as solar and wind do, but forestry biomass can accelerate B.C.’s move toward its energy plan, CleanBC. The CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 states, “B.C. uses a diverse mix of energy types to meet demands from our transportation, industry and building sectors. Clean electricity currently accounts for only 19% of the total. Low-carbon biomass and biofuels meet an additional 11%, and that proportion will rise in the future.”

Canada recognizes the importance of biomass energy for remote and Indigenous remote communities, as renewable energy can power microgrids in these areas, supporting clean energy microgrid deployment through their Clean Energy for Rural and Remote Communities program. Additionally, the clearing of biomass is a crucial part of forest management, especially as wildfires increase.

British Columbia’s forest bioeconomy acknowledges the conversion of biomass to heat, electricity and fuel as a clean energy source. While B.C. has cited “lack of accurate information on the cost and availability of residual forest biomass” is holding up the development of the first local bioeconomy in the province, the province has developed a framework for the Indigenous forest bioeconomy. This framework is based on the need for collaboration between Indigenous communities and industry in the natural resource sector. B.C. has also established the value of the bioeconomy for jobs, with bioenergy creating 0.6 to 1 jobs per 1,000 oven-dried tons of feedstock. This may not match the job creation of biochemicals and biomaterials, but bioenergy uses biomass material not suitable for other applications and advances the region toward low-carbon energy.

BioNorth Energy: An Indigenous-Industry Partnership
BioNorth Energy, a joint-venture partnership between the Arrow, Nak’azdli Development Corp. and Nexus PMG, has recently acquired and reopened the Fort St. James Green Energy Project. Arrow brings significant expertise in acquiring and producing biomass fiber, as well as transportation, logistics and supply chain management, with  more than 100 years of experience in successful operations in the U.S. and Canada. Nak’azdli Whu’ten and NDC provide deep knowledge of natural resources and forestry, and have relationships with other major forest tenure holders within the region.

As for Nexus PMG, the company brings a wealth of technical and operational knowledge of biomass power generation facilities, having designed, developed and commissioned over 1,000 MW of facilities around the world.

In early December 2021, 34 employees were welcomed back to the Fort St. James Energy Project to complete minor recommissioning activities. The facility is now operational, generating clean power for British Columbians, with more extensive recommissioning work being executed in spring of 2022. Additionally, the forestry license has been successfully transferred.

Smaller Footprint, Greater Impact
The deal shows what’s possible when industry and Indigenous communities identify meaningful opportunities and work incredibly hard together to turn ideas into reality. As stated by Chief Aileen Prince of Nak’azdli White’en, while many communities have minority stakes in forestry-sector projects, there are very few partnerships where an Indigenous community has a significant equity position in a multimillion-dollar project. With BioNorth Energy, Nak’azdli Whut’en has a strong voice at the table, a seat on the board, and direct involvement in the management of forest resources within their traditional territory.

BioNorth Energy believes the reopening of the Fort St. James Green Energy Project will have immediate and lasting positive impacts on the local economy and the environment. At the same time, it will demonstrate the value of Indigenous-industry relationships in the biomass sector, and green energy as a whole.

Author: Raj Daniels
Director of Strategic Partnerships and Sustainability Initiatives
Nexus PMG
[email protected]