Kerby Good helped fill containers at the Skeena Bioenergy/Kitsumkalum Economic Development Group wood pellet donation day Feb. 1 at the Kitsumkalum boat launch just west of Terrace. (Terrace Standard photo)

Pellet plant eyes domestic market

Terrace manufacturer also gave away pellets

The Skeena Bioenergy pellet plant in Terrace is exploring the possibility of supplying the domestic market for pellet stove owners affected by a regional shortage.

Skeena Bioenergy plant general manager Greg DeMille said since the opening of the plant in June last year, the company has been concentrating on exporting its pellets to satisfy long-term contracts with Asian customers.

“As our plant is new and we have only been creating pellets for the past six months it is going to take a bit of time to increase production to the point where we can fully service the local market,” said Greg DeMille last week.

“Currently, we are focused on finding local companies to work with that can develop the sales and distribution capacity to help increase our ability to service the local market.”

The shortage arose at the beginning of January when extreme cold weather and fibre shortages affected production at Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products, the region’s only supplier of pellets for the domestic market.

Retail outlets from Prince Rupert to Prince George quickly ran out of supplies and when they did arrive, some outlets were rationing 40-pound bags to customers. Outlets also began importing pellets from Alberta and some reached down as far as Washington State.

Skeena Bioenergy began shipping bulk quantities to Gitxsan Energy in Hazelton which in turn began transporting and selling to pellet stove owners throughout the region.

Skeena Bioenergy’s industrial-grade export pellets have a slightly higher ash content than is standard for domestic pellets but are otherwise compatible with domestic stoves, said DeMille.

Local pellet stove owners did get a chance to try Skeena Bioenergy’s pellets when the company held a pellet donation day on Saturday, February 1.

It had been testing a system to load pellets into 20-foot containers. After successfully fully loading one container, Skeena Bioenergy decided to donate the contents given the shortage, said DeMille.

“Currently we ship all of our pellets by rail,” he said. “In the future [pellets] may be hauled by truck to the port in Prince Rupert and loaded onto a container ship. This would be in addition to the rail shipments we are currently doing and would not replace them.”

In conjunction with the Kitsumkalum Economic Development Group, Skeena Bio-Energy set up at the Kitsumkalum First Nation’s boat launch just west of Terrace where volunteers loaded up a steady fleet of pick-up trucks.

There was a 200-pound limit per family and donations for community groups were accepted. Also on hand were refreshments.

While Skeena Bioenergy investigates domestic sales, it is also busy refining its plant operations.

“As of mid-November 2019, we began running the plant 24 hours a day, seven days per week. However, we are still in the process of commissioning the plant and getting it up to full operational capacity,” said DeMille.

Last week, the company received word it is getting a $408,320 grant from the provincially-financed Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. to chip and haul waste from logging sites to its plant, waste that might otherwise be burned.

“The grant will be used to support the hauling of the material from areas currently unfeasible to remove fibre from. The material will be ground on-site and hauled to the plant,” said DeMille.

The waste amounts to approximately 22,000 cubic metres or the equivalent of 440 truckloads and comes from areas where sister company Skeena Sawmills has had logging operations.

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