Roddickton pumped about pellet plant

Aaron
Aaron Beswick
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Questions remain about who will build it and when

Things looked rosy in Roddickton last week - conversations over coffee at the town's gas stations were all about lumber and pellet plants and better times to come.

Details of the planned pellet plant are sketchy, but 40,000 cubic metres of pulpwood are expected to be needed from the Northern Peninsula in the coming year.

Roddickton - Things looked rosy in Roddickton last week - conversations over coffee at the town's gas stations were all about lumber and pellet plants and better times to come.

Details of the planned pellet plant are sketchy, but 40,000 cubic metres of pulpwood are expected to be needed from the Northern Peninsula in the coming year.

"Before the announcement, the Northern Peninsula didn't have a lumber industry," said Ted Lewis, owner of Holson Forest Products.

"The day after, we had an industry again."

The deal with Corner Brook Pulp and Paper to take a year's worth of pulpwood from the peninsula buys time while the rest of the province's $14-million forestry plan comes into effect.

The plan was devised in the wake of a North America-wide downturn in the pulp and paper industry.

While the province's revitalization plan allocates millions of dollars for finding new markets, creating business plans and equipment for sawlogs, the plan for pulpwood could cause the biggest changes in the industry.

"I'm pretty excited, actually," said Lewis, whose plant was going to close its gates on 30 employees at the end of April until the plan was rolled out.

"It's a positive response to a proposal submitted to government by the IFPG."

The Integrated Forest Products Group (IFPG), a coalition of Newfoundland's seven sawmills, submitted a proposal intended to save their industry to Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale and Innovation, Trade Minister Trevor Taylor last November.

The IFPG plan called for three pellet plants across the province, built by industry. In return, the government would convert its buildings near the plant, such as hospitals or schools, to pellet heat and provide a guaranteed market.

The benefits, according to IFPG president Bob Dingwall, would be twofold - a market for pulpwood would be created and the government would save on heating costs. He estimates wood pellet heat to be approximately half the cost of oil heating at current prices.

In response to the IFPG proposal, the government commissioned a cost/benefit analysis of converting public buildings to pellet heat.

"That report has indicated that government or industry would get a return on their investment of converting from oil to pellet heat within three to four years - that's very favourable," said Dingwall.

And the government seems to have taken the proposal to heart.

Taylor recently told The Northern Pen that industry would build a pellet plant in Roddickton and that the government was investigating which public buildings could be converted to pellet heat. As well, the province is offering a 25 per cent rebate to homeowners who convert to pellet heat.

But several questions remain.

Who will build the Roddickton plant? How big will it be? How much pulpwood will it use? When will it open? Will it join Roddickton's thermal power plant and aspenite plant and become white elephants?

"This would be profitable - it wouldn't be like the thermal energy plant," Dingwall insists.

"Back in the 1980s, we were using (wood) biomass in a green, unprocessed state, and as oil prices dropped it became a disaster - wood pellets are dry and we can get efficiency from pellets to match or pass (that of) oil burners."

A plant in Roddickton, Dingwall said, would likely convert 40,000 cubic metres of wood biomass into 20,000 tonnes of pellets annually.

The biomass, made of sawmill waste and trees too small for sawlogs, would come from harvesters north of Gros Morne National Park.

As for who will build the plant, no one in industry is commenting officially.

And the plan does have its detractors - mainly Reef's Harbour Junction contractor Ralph Payne.

"There's always two headstones over there in Roddickton, that's the power plant and the particleboard plant," he said. "Do we want another headstone?"

He wants the government to support Eastwood Forest Products' proposal to build a large sawmill in Deer Lake. Pulpwood from the Northern Peninsula would be shipped to Deer Lake, where Eastwood would trade it to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper for other timber rights.

"I support a pellet plant in Roddickton as long as it wouldn't take pulpwood that could be going to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper," he said.

Organizations: Integrated Forest Products Group, Holson Forest Products, Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale and Innovation

Geographic location: Roddickton, North America, Newfoundland Deer Lake Gros Morne National Park

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