Atlantic Power Corporation has a new 10-year energy purchase agreement with BC Hydro for its plant in Williams Lake.
The new agreement went into effective Tuesday Oct. 1, and replaces the short-term one the company had been under since April 2, 2018.
“As we have highlighted previously, biomass plants provide benefits beyond the generation of electricity, including support for the local economy and timber industry, and environmental benefits, including forest management,” said Joe Cofelice, executive vice president, commercial development in a press release. “We are very pleased to be extending our longstanding relationship with our customer BC Hydro at Williams Lake in order to serve the interests of consumers, the environment and the local community. We thank all those in the local community who supported our efforts to obtain a new long-term contract for this plant.”
Conditions in the B.C. timber market for the past couple of years have adversely affected both the availability and cost of fuel, which as previously noted by the company represents the most significant operational and financial risk for Williams Lake.
The company was historically permitted to burn rail ties but has not since purchasing the plant in 2010.
However, in recent years, citing a decline in the Allowable Annual Cut (AAC), the company began pursuing a permit amendment to allow it to increase the amount of rail tie generated biomass it could burn.
When permission was granted, several appeals were launched by local citizens as well as the creation of the group Rail Ties Be Wise.
In 2019, the Environmental Appeal Board ruled in favour of the company.
Angie Delainey, one of the appelants for the appeal, said the renewed agreement is ‘good news’ for the community and she hopes there is no mention of burning rail ties.
“If we are still going to be burning ties than I’d say I’m disappointed in BC Hydro and our government that is supposed to be looking out for our well being,” she told the Tribune. “Being a guinea pig is not looking out for people. So I guess my response depends on what is actually in the permit.”
Atlantic Power Williams Lake business manager Frankie Nelson said the company is still evaluating its fuel supply options and a potential investment in a fuel shredder required to burn rail ties.
“No decision has been made at this time,” Nelson confirmed. “We will to have more to say on this subject in the coming months.”
With only a short-term contract with BC Hydro, the company said it has been procuring fuel only on a short-term basis.
Presently the plant employs 28 people, she added.
Bob Gammer, BC Hydro manager of Northern Community Relations, said BC Hydro is focused on keeping rates affordable for customers.
“The facility has a capacity of 66 megawatts and the renewal agreement is for 388.4 gigawatt-hours per year of electricity,” Gammer said. “Under the biomass energy program, we’re negotiating renewal contracts at lower prices and volumes with seven biomass generating facilities that have electricity purchase agreements due to expire before March 2022. To date, one other ten-year renewal agreement has been signed under program.”