Meadow Lake power plant announced

Bioenergy Centre will use wood chips as fuel from NorSask sawmill

By Ben Ingram

A new biomass power plant was announced for Meadow Lake at the NorSask sawmill on Oct. 3.

The plant, dubbed the Meadow Lake Bioenergy Centre, will be fuelled by wood chips obtained from the saw mill’s production. It’s expected to generate upwards of 36 megawatts, or roughly .01 per cent of the current provincial total.

“This is going to lead to new jobs in the area and in and around Meadow Lake. Three hundred new jobs especially associated with the construction phase, 25 permanent jobs,” Rob Norris, the minister responsible for Sask Power said, adding that spinoff jobs in the forestry industry might be a possibility as well.

The MLBC agreement came through a partnership between the provincial government, the Meadow Lake Tribal Council and the First Nations Power Authority. The minister said it’s the first such deal to be brokered through the FNPA.

While the power generated by the facility will be a drop in the bucket compared to the needs of the province as a whole, the president and CEO of Sask Power, Robert Watson, said it meshes with the organization’s future goals.

“Our power requirements have to increase over the next 15 years or so because the province is growing,” he explained. “We’re looking at all of our options for moving it forward. We want to have a distributed portfolio, to not be dependent on one source.”

Sask Power wants to increase the current supply of power from 4,000 megawatts to 6,000 in order to meet future demand. The solution is likely to come through hydro agreements with northern communities and Manitoba, the expansion of alternative sources and possibly even nuclear power.

The province is currently powered most significantly by coal sources and the government has echoed its continuing commitment to the fuel source going forward, while also taking steps to reduce the harmful emissions associated with it.

Despite that commitment to coal, which accounts for as much as half of Saskatchewan’s current power supply, the aim is to reduce the overall share by introducing new sources and expanding current ones.

“We want biomass, we want cogen (re-using hot water to generate power, or for use in cities), wind power, solar power, it’s just a matter of the cost and supply,” Watson said. “The power production from the coal plants won’t go down, but the per cent of the total will.”

For Ben Voss, CEO of MLTC’s resource development, one of the biggest advantages will be for the sawmill which should gain a steady revenue stream from the deal.

Voss said that while power plants aren’t always a highly lucrative business, their true value rests in the consistency of the profits they generate. Steady usage of wood chips for fuel from the mill will also generate a consistent profit for a business in an often tumultuous industry.

“That’s going to stabilize NorSask and give it a lot more strength to operate in poor market conditions,” he said.

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