On Thursday, March 28 Pinnacle Pellet Inc. held an information session for the public about the proposed upgrades to their Williams Lake plant.
Protecting jobs was first and foremost on the minds of all company representatives The Tribune talked to, as was assurances that this upgrade would reduce emissions, not increase them. Dozens of lakecity citizens, officials and members of the business community turned out to hear what Pinnacle had to say and evaluate the facts for themselves.
Currently, Pinnacle Pellet Inc. is seeking a letter of recommendation from the City of Williams Lake for a permit amendment that will increase the size of its baghouse, its air pollution control device and dust collector, from 25 cubic metres per second to 30 cubic metres per second.
Pawel ‘Paul’ Pawlowski, director of energy and environment at Pinnacle Renewable Energy, said that in essence what they’re looking to do is a “capital upgrade” to the equipment they have on site in Williams Lake currently. The main addition, Pawlowski said, will be a bed dryer that will increase the “evaporative capacity” of their facility.
“Over the last few years, there’s been a change in the fibre supply in the Cariboo region and the plant, in today’s fibre environment, can’t really handle what feedstock is out there,” Pawlowski said. “What we’re really looking at doing is bringing in wetter material, which is the only material that is available today.”
By adding this bed dryer, Pawlowski said they hope to bring the plant’s production back to its historic levels. The incremental fibre that will fuel this resurgence will be made of brush and harvesting residuals often left or burned out in the bush.
Right now the plant takes in fibre residuals primarily from sawmills, like sawdust, all “clean, virgin material,” nothing with glues or other unnatural chemical agents, Pawlowski said. Once that fibre is broken down to a consistent particle size, the fibre is then placed in their current dryer and heated until there is less than a four per cent moisture content. The fibre is then placed into their pellet machine, which extrudes them into pellet form ready to be used by converted coal power plants around the world.
With their current rotary style dryer their capacity is four metric tonnes per hour of drying capacity, while the proposed bed dryer, Pawlowski said, will add an additional eight metric tonnes per hour. It should also, according to him, make their emissions four times less than the guidelines set by the Ministry of Environment.
Pawlowski said the cost of these upgrades represents a $30-million investment on Pinnacle’s part that will create 90,000 labour hours during the construction phase. He is hopeful that the resulting upgrade will result in “spin-off jobs” for the local community such as in maintenance, trucking and welding.
“Essentially (we’re) just firming up our investment and reinvesting additional capital in the community. (That) is what this project is about,” Pawlowski said.
The main change, physically, will be the addition of the bed dryer and the movement of their current baghouse to a new location. In addition, Pawlowski said they’re planned on paving the fibre area to reduce fugitive dust emissions created by the plant.
Jason Fisher, the vice-president of fibre and sustainability for Pinnacle Renewable Energy and the company’s agrologist, said that much of the changes they’re making have been driven by the Douglas Fir beetle infestation and fire seasons of recent years. As the type of fibre readily available in the Cariboo changes from sawmill waste to dead or burnt trees, the upgrade is necessary, he said.
“I think there is an environmental service we can provide here in taking wood that would otherwise be burned in a cull pile and turning it into something that is a product people want,” Fisher said.
The chief concerns of the 50 some people in attendance throughout the consultation were emissions by the plant and dust from both the plant’s fibre area and the Canadian Tire Parking lot. Mayor Walt Cobb indicated that protecting air quality from decreasing anymore then it has, due to wildfires and existing carbon emission sources, will play a large factor in the City’s ultimate decision on the project
Ministry of Environment members were on hand at the public consultation in an observer role and to talk with the public. At this time the Ministry is neutral on the proposed project, according to Peter Lawrie, section head of the forest products sector. Until such time as Pinacle Pellet Inc. submits their findings to the Ministry for cross-examination and verification, Lawrie said they could not render judgement one way or the other.
“It’s all a very careful, scientific process and that’s what we do,” Lawrie said.
As of the publication of this article, the City of Williams Lake has yet to issue a letter of support for the permit amendment.