Norsask Powers Up
In addition to ramping up its Norsask Forest Products lumber operation in northwestern Saskatchewan, Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) is also expanding its bioenergy portfolio.
In addition to ramping up its Norsask Forest Products lumber operation in northwestern Saskatchewan, Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) is also expanding its bioenergy portfolio. MLTC is 100 per cent owned by nine First Nations communities around Meadow Lake, and holds a diverse array of companies, including forestry, aviation and trucking. The bulk of its holdings are somehow tied to the province’s forest sector, with its recent foray into bioenergy serving as another example of that.
|The mill has a varied stream of residuals to feed the bioenergy projects, and is working with area mills to top up the supply.
“We have a very synergistic approach to our forest business,” explains Trevor Reid, vice president and COO of MLTC Industrial Investments Limited Partnership. “We like to see all the streams connected, and all with revenue attached to get the most from the resource. Adding the energy component is a logical next step.”
The first of these projects has been an R&D scale pellet plant and marketing arm. Located adjacent to the Norsask sawmill and feeding off dry planer shavings, the current plant can make up to 1 ton/hr. As Reid explains, the objectives are different than Canada’s mainstream export-driven pellet industry.
“The goal was to produce enough pellets to develop and feed five local pilot heating projects, arranged either through our subsidiaries or our communities that are dependent on oil or propane. The pellets we make currently feed the new planer mill building, Westwind Aviation’s hangar in Saskatoon, MLTC Northern Trucking’s shop, a school in Big Island Lake First Nation, and four houses in Canoe Lake Cree Nation.”
With over half of MLTC’s communities dependent on oil or propane, the vision is to take a residual from the forest operations, convert it to a fuel, and act as a utility that can provide turnkey, renewable heat at a savings to the end user.
“We are challenged logistically from a pellet export perspective, but at the same time we see a real need among our communities for an alternative fuel. Rather than treating pellets like a commodity, we’ll offer total heating packages that we’ll supply with our pellets.”
The company has been collecting data for the past 18 months, and feels comfortable now ramping up production to consume the full mill shavings output. That will amount to 40 to 50 tons per shift, for about 35 tons of pellets per shift.
Part of the reason for a slight delay in expanding the pellet project has been a welcome distraction in trying to get a massive 40 MW power generation project going (36 MW net). The $210 million project ($160 million for construction costs) has been in the works for almost three years, and when we spoke with Reid in late June, the final steps were being taken to secure debt financing and an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) turnkey contractor had been selected. Reid was anticipating foundation work to start in the fall.
|The upgraded planer mill is heated by a pellet burner, seen to the right with the pellet hopper.
One of the main drivers for the project sits just a few hundred meters from the Norsask sawmill, in the form of one of Canada’s few remaining tee-pee burners.
“It’s an obvious opportunity to turn a liability into revenue, and completes the whole business model. Also Saskatchewan has seen tremendous growth in recent years, and expects more. Sask Power is reaching out via the First Nations Power Authority for some significant extra generating capacity, and we see a role in that.”
With its own integrated forestry operation, MLTC avoids the fuel risk that many other proposed bioenergy projects can get bogged down in.
“The sawmill provides 50 to 60 per cent of the needs of the proposed plant. Our preference is to get the rest in the form of residuals from other plants, but regardless we have the fibre from harvest residuals and other supplies.We’ve had an independent fuel study done, and we have a secure supply.” All of the power generated would be sold direct to the grid.