Strange Bedfellows

Pellet plant leases rooftop for solar energy system.
By Anna Austin | July 28, 2011

A wood pellet plant under development in eastern Ontario is taking full advantage of its large, flat rooftop by leasing it to a company that will use it as the site for a 500-kilowatt solar energy system.
BioSila Corp. purchased the facility, a former sawmill, in October of 2010, says Brian Gard, BioSila director of strategic planning. On-site demolition and removal of old equipment is nearly complete, and the company expects a March 2012 start-up.

The solar project is a way to rake in some extra revenue, according to Gard. “It’s a really big, white roof and is in good shape, but there wasn’t much we could do with it,” he says. “It’s also facing the right direction, a southwest angle, so it makes sense to put solar panels on it.”

The plant is surrounded by more than 16 acres of land that is currently unusable, he adds, so the company also looked at ground-mounted solar. That idea was ditched, however, when it was discovered that there were power line capacity issues. “We’d have to run power line extensions,” he says. “We evaluated putting four rankine turbines on the property for 4 megawatts of power, but we would have had to spend an additional $7 million to $7.5 million to run lines up to the local dam to the switch center, as well as buy a step-up transformer and boot, so it just didn’t make sense.” 

BioSila is still working on plans to incorporate a 10-megawatt cogeneration facility at the site, and has a 20-year contract in place with Atlantic Wind & Solar (AWSL) to lease the roof space. The solar energy system will generate enough electricity to power about 100 homes, and AWSL will sell the power to the Ontario Power Authority as part of the province’s feed-in tariff program.

Under the roof, BioSila will produce about 54,000 tons of wood pellets during its first year. Initially, the company indicated that it planned to produce around 250,000 tons of biomass pellets, but it doesn’t currently have the raw material allocation. “When we bought the property, we were under the impression that we would acquire a 125,000-acre crown allocation, and we made another request to the government for an additional allocation of 125,000 acres,” Gard says. “We didn’t get it, so we’ve gone private and hope to be able to go up to about 75,000 tons the second year.”

As for sales, Gard says the company is in negotiations with a U.S. company to purchase about 90 percent of BioSila’s product. “The balance might be domestic, but we’re looking at about 90 percent wholesale market, 10 percent distribution market,” he says.

—Anna Austin