BC plant to use trees killed by pine beetles

By Lisa Gibson
Posted May 27, 2009, at 11:13 a.m. CST

A proposed biomass power plant near Hanceville, British Columbia, Canada, will run on trees killed by mountain pine beetles, if the plan is selected as a project for Phase II of BC Hydro's Bioenergy Call for Power.

Plans for the $260 million 60-megawatt plant in the Cariboo Chilcotin were developed through a partnership between Western Biomass Power Corp. and Tsilhqot'in National Government. It is one of many proposals vying for a place in the Bioenergy Call for Power, a program to provide British Columbia with clean energy and diversify rural economies. Phase II includes a two-stream process, the first targeting larger-scale biomass projects and the second focusing on smaller-scale, community-level biomass energy solutions, according to BC Hydro. Phase I, conducted in 2008, included projects that were immediately viable and resulted in four electricity purchase agreements that were filed with the British Columbia Utilities Commission in February. The program will help the province reach its goal of becoming electrically self-sufficient by 2016.

The region has experienced a mountain pine beetle epidemic and local businessmen responded by establishing Western Biomass to utilize the dead wood. Piles of dead wood left behind by forest licensees are burned under current practices, releasing particulates into the air. "There are literally mountains of these trees," said Jeff Paquin, manager of business development for the company. "We're addressing that by using waste wood to create energy. The objective from day one was to do something useful with this otherwise useless wood." The company was turned over to Run of River Power Inc. in August 2007.

Costs of building the plant and annual operation (estimated at about $55 million) may be less than expected, as service provider costs are coming down, Paquin said. The facility would create about 167 full-time jobs and another 89 permanent jobs in areas including harvesting, transportation and planning, he said. The plant will work with local traditional saw log licensees to procure the biomass, thereby improving the economics of the industry. "It's important that we work together with existing industries," he said.

Paquin said the project has several environmental, social and economic benefits. It's an opportunity to create employment in an area that has a high unemployment rate and attracts capital to the area. It also would help drive pride, leadership and self-determination in young First Nations people as the region strives for independence from government funding and toward self-sufficiency. Environmentally, the project helps clear the dead trees that would otherwise cause problems with soil erosion, habitat and the growth of other plants such as mushrooms.

Proposals for both streams of the Bioenergy Call for Power, which must meet certain standards, are to be turned into BC Hydro by the fall of this year. The company says it will make its selections early next year. The goal of the larger-scale projects is to acquire 1,000 gigawatt hours of energy, according to the company. It also will choose at least two community-based projects.

The project proposal has plenty of support from groups such as the Cariboo Regional District, the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce, First Nations people and most recently, a verbal approval from the Hanceville City Council. The council will meet again next week and Paquin hopes for documented approval. "We have support from all levels," he said. "It just strengthens our position with the other competitors."

An in-depth study showed the current supply of roadside residual and dead trees will last for 25 years, after which time Western Biomass will harvest its own crop of trees, to be planted in about seven years, Paquin said.