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Local leaders continue to apply pressure to keep Atlantic Power open

The biomass-energy plant’s electricity purchase agreement expires June 30, 2019
A growing number of leaders are lobbying government to ensure Atlantic Power’s electricity purchase agreement with BC Hyrdo is renewed before it expires on June 30, 2019. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Mayor Walt Cobb is sounding the alarm that Atlantic Power may not receive a long-term renewed electrical purchase agreement with BC Hydro for its biomass energy plant in Williams Lake.

“I’m fed up,” Cobb said of continued efforts the city has made to lobby for the agreement be renewed. “We’ve been working on this for two years and continue to get the run around from government and BC Hydro. My fear is we’re going to lose it.”

Cobb said the last information he had from the office of the Minister of Energy and Mines was a decision would not be made until the end of June.

“Well the contract is up on June 30, 2109, so what does that mean?”

Blaming the delay on provincial government’s decision to review BC Hydro, Cobb alleged the government does not give a “damn” about rural B.C.

“They have no members in rural B.C., so they don’t have to answer to them,” he said.

Read more: Provincial government announces BC Hydro review

Minister of Energy and Mines Michelle Mungall was not available for an interview, but her office provided an e-mail response Thursday, noting BC Hydro has an option to further extend the agreement to the end of September 2019.

“While government and BC Hydro work together on the BC Hydro review, BC Hydro is seeking BC Utilities Commission’s approval for a short-term extension, and a decision is pending,” a spokesperson for the ministry said.

The ministry said that government is aware of the economic importance of facilities like Atlantic Power to Williams Lake, and the role it plays with respect to regional fibre balances and the environment.

“It is expected that the results of Phase 1 of the BC Hydro review will be announced before Atlantic Power’s current contract extension expires,” the spokesperson noted.

Defending the decision to review BC Hydro, the ministry said the intent is to ensure it is providing clean or renewable resources at the best value to its customers.

“As part of the ongoing BC Hydro review, government is working with BC Hydro to develop a longer term energy strategy for biomass facilities with expiring electricity purchase agreements that will take into consideration fuel supply availability, cost effectiveness and government objectives.”

Council, however, passed a motion at Tuesday’s meeting for Cobb to set up a meeting with Premier John Horgan and Mungall to discuss the issue.

“I am hoping to get someone from the United Steelworkers, from the chamber and from Williams Lake Indian Band to attend the meeting with me,” Cobb said.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said Atlantic Power needs a long-term agreement with BC Hydro.

“If we lose that co-gen plant what will happen to the city of Williams Lake’s air quality?” she said Thursday.

When the biomass-fired energy plant opened two and half decades ago it was the first of its kind in North America, she added.

“It was something we all worked on as a region back in the 1990s when I was the mayor of 100 Mile House to clean up the air,” Barnett said.

“If we don’t get a long-term agreement and get this settled we are all very concerned. Businesses have to have a long-term plan for planning, for capital improvement. As technology changes, you have to put in an awful lot of money for these types of facilities and nobody is going to do that on the short term.”

Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Mark Doratti said the chamber is encouraging community businesses to “pick up the torch” and write letters in support of Atlantic Power.

“Like any member that is having issue with their ability to stay in business because of government inaction, we choose to advocate for them,” Doratti said. “Atlantic Power employs over 30 people in the city who use their income to raise their families, support local business, schools and recreation and has been an important business partner for the community over the years spending money for the benefit of local business.”

Chamber president Charlene Harrison penned a letter to the British Columbia Utilities Commission in December noting there is a serious need to clean up the region’s forests and mitigate future fire-related concerns for loss of life, livelihood and property.

“Considering the overabundance of fibre laying on the ground in the region’s forests, beetle kill and dying trees the fuel source for Atlantic Power is immeasurable and can go far to help fire-smart our area,” Harrison said.

In September 2016, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) approved an amendment to the facility’s existing permit that would allow the use of a broader mix of fuels, including rail ties, which resulted in appeals launched by some residents of Williams Lake.

The Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) conducted a written hearing on the appeals and a decision has yet to be released.

In the meantime, Mayor Cobb has argued rail ties should not even need to be used by the plant.

Since the 2017 wildfires and the push to mitigate wildfire hazards there will be plenty of fibre, he said.

Read more: Slash piles instead of rail ties a viable option

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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