Ontario biomass plant conversion in final regulatory stage

By Anna Austin | December 01, 2011

Ontario Power Generation’s biomass repowering project in Atikokan, Ontario, Canada, has entered the last part of the regulatory approval process—a 30-day public comment period on the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s review of OPG’s Certificate of Approval application.

When the comment period ends Dec. 10, OPG expects the MOE will make a ruling within a month, according to Atikokan Station Manager Brent Boyko. He said while that is the last step in the regulatory process, the project has a couple of other hurdles to overcome. One is securing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Ontario Power Authority, which reports to the MOE. “That will dictate the amount of money we have available to complete our conversion process and to purchase fuel for the long-term operation of the facility,” Boyko said. “It’s a competitive process.”

OPG is phasing out its coal use by 2014 and is repowering its stations with biomass and natural gas. Atikokan Generation Station is a single-unit, 211-megawatt coal-fired electricity plant that has been operating since 1985 in the town of Atikokan, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Boyko said OPG plans to use wood pellets at the facility and has looked into suppliers already. “We put out an initial request for pricing and have all of those packages in place, so we’re ready to go forward with signing some contracts,” he said. “It’s all tied together with the PPA though, that dictates our long-term operations. As soon as we have that, things will come together.”

The plant will use about 90,000 metric tons of wood pellets annually.

Also, in preparation for the Atikokan conversion and others, OPG had a sustainability and climate change analysis performed by the Pembina Institute, which studied potential implications of electricity generation at four OPG coal plants, using 2 million metric tons per year of forest-based biomass, sourced and processed in Ontario. Among its findings was that that there would be no systematic decline in forest carbon stocks over time, and that the wood pellet electricity pathway for the Atikokan Generation Station offers significant greenhouse gas benefits over combined-cycle natural gas generation, on average about 90 per cent lower.

In addition, the study found that the economic benefit will be concentrated in the local area, with the creation of 130 jobs and $18 million per year added to the area economy.