The forestry industry in British Columbia was greatly affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic which destroyed a large number of trees. Prompted by the government’s need to dispose of the dead trees, to reduce forest fire risks and valorize the dead and dying wood, B.C. Hydro launched a public tender offer for the construction and operation of two new biomass facilities: one in Fort Saint James and the other one in Merritt. The bid sought to convert sawmill residual fibre waste into electricity.
About the facility
With an important financial partner, Veolia North America announced the project to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the Fort St. James and Merritt biomass sites in central British Columbia in 2013.
Following construction in 2018, Veolia has operated the new facilities under an operations and maintenance contract, while also securing a steady supply of biomass (organic matter used as fuel) for each plant, supplied by local partners. Each facility is expected to consume some 200,000 dry tons of biomass, mostly sawmill waste. The 40 megawatts (MW) of electricity generated by each plant is sold to B.C. Hydro & Power Authority. It is enough to power more than 40,000 households, annually.
In 2018, British Colombia has faced major forest fires which have disrupted the biomass fuel supply in the area and increased Canadian softwood lumber tariffs; however, a solution is underway to make the organic fuel supply needed to run these two biomass facilities more resilient.
Environmental and community benefits
Since completion, the Fort St. James Green energy plant has consumed approximately 200,000 metric tons of biomass a year, converting waste into electricity. The plant also helps avoid the annual discharge of 95,000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — equivalent to removing more than 45,000 cars from the road.
The positive economic impact of these biomass plants will be felt throughout the region for the next 30 years through the creation of approximately 80 jobs, generating local income and tax contributions. Also, by making purchases for them (indirect effect). In addition, the teams at each site spend their earnings in the region's services sectors, such as grocery stores, gas stations, utility, restaurants, etc.
During the construction of the biomass facility (between 2013 and 2017), approximately 250 jobs were created.