By Ellen Cools
On Feb. 1, between 165 and 175 families from B.C.’s Highway 16 region got some much-needed heating material thanks to Skeena Bioenergy.
The Terrace, B.C.-based company held a Community Pellet Day where residents impacted by an ongoing wood pellet shortage were encouraged to pick up wood pellets by donation.
The shortage is a result of multiple factors: the decline of mountain pine beetle-killed stands available for harvest (which has caused many B.C. sawmills to take downtime or close permanently, reducing fibre supply for pellet producers), challenging winter conditions, and the CN railway strike before Christmas, Rick Harris, Skeena Bioenergy’s vice-president, explains.
A lot of pellet companies also have to honour long-term contracts, which further reduces the available supply for domestic use, he says. The provincial government is also making structural changes regarding the availability of fibre supply that impact pellet producers.
Although Skeena Bioenergy is a new entrant to the market – the plant began operating six months ago and was commissioned in December 2019 – Harris says supporting the local community is a key part of their strategy.
“We’re new in the game; we’re just getting our business going, and we felt that we wanted to put a hand up and be helpful,” he says.
Skeena produces industrial-grade pellets for export and does not have a bagging line, so residents were asked to bring bags to carry up to 200 lbs. of pellets each. All told, 34,000 lbs. of pellets were distributed at the event. Approximately $1,500 in donations were also collected to go to the building of the Ktsimkalum School in Terrace, B.C., and the Morrison Family Memorial Fund.
The event “went really, really well,” Harris says. “We had good, steady turnout from the community. From everything that we heard, people were very positive about it. We had a full 20-foot container load of pellets and it was basically empty by the end of the day.”
The goal was not just to provide immediate relief for residents, but also to help create a long-term solution, Harris says.
“Our approach is to create partnerships that are going to create further access for pellet locally,” he explains. The event facilitated several discussions about how to develop a structure that will help support local communities in the future.
“As an example, we had people that were coming in and taking advantage of the day, and looking at how they could source pellets in the future. We were handing out cards for the company that was distributing our pellets locally so they could contact them and hopefully get access to them as a long-term solution,” Harris says.