The planned upgrade to expand Sinclar Group’s Premium Pellets wood pellet plant in Vanderhoof could double its air emissions.
The company estimates its operation now accounts for up to 5 per cent of total air pollution based on measurements taken at the courthouse in downtown Vanderhoof. That will increase to 10 per cent, the company said in a public consultation meeting on March 1.
A 30-day public consultation period ending mid-March was part of the permitting process to expand the facility.
Joshua Kelly, energy and environmental manager at Sinclar Group Forest Products said those projections represent a maximum of what the expansion could add to the air and are consistent with similar plants in B.C. He said actual emissions are expected to be lower.
The company is implementing pollution control measures and developing an air quality management plan to “bridge the gap” between starting operations and installing a filter system to remove soot and ash from exhaust fumes before they exit the smokestacks.
Kelly said the filter system will be installed within three years from acquiring a permit for the expansion. “Once we get to that point we will be using the best available technology.”
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said the expansion would be good for the district but he wants the filters (called scrubbers) installed sooner rather than later.
“This upgrade of the pellet mill would be significant for Vanderhoof. The concern we always have is our air quality and health in our area,” Thiessen said.
“Our feeling as a council is that those scrubbers should be put in once the plant is being built. We need to safeguard our air quality as much as possible. We will work toward them being installed as soon as possible.”
Dave Herzig, general manager of lumber operations at Sinclar Group, said although the expansion of the mill itself won’t increase the number of direct jobs it will “highly likely” grow indirect jobs depending on forestry contractors’ need for extra manpower to supply the plant.
He said the biggest gain for the community is that upgrades will ensure longevity of the mill and the mills’ ability to meet its contractual obligations long-term.
“If I go back two-to-three years ago we were shorting our contracts quite significantly and that puts us at risk with our European companies that we partner with,” Herzig said.
Herzig said the company has spent up to $3 million at local companies so far during construction and that amount could exceed $5 million by the time the plant is finished.
The company said its upgraded plant will also help weather recent closures in the lumber sector and volatile market conditions by using alternative sources of biomass like small trees, branches and other leftovers from cutting that would otherwise go to waste.
Thiessen also stressed the importance of the pellet plant to the local economy saying the expansion improves job stability for 22 employees at the plant and forestry workers. He said diversification in the forestry sector is “certainly a plus.”
“We do know the value of the Sinclar group to our community and we value it very much. But we do want to make sure that our community is as healthy a place to live and to grow up in as it possibly can be.”
Next steps for Sinclar Group are to prepare and submit a final application package to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (MoE) for approval and the project will go from there.