Conifex’s $100-million wood-fuelled power plant was put on hold two years ago because financing fell through, but it is now back on track.

The B.C.-based company expects to be producing power at the Mackenzie site in northern B.C. by the end of September.

The plant is among the first of a slate of projects that will come on stream in the next two years to produce so-called green energy and to deal with increasing waste from pine-beetle killed timber, a plan first envisioned in 2008 by the B.C. Liberals under then-premier Gordon Campbell.

While there have been a number of biomass power projects constructed within pulp mills as part of B.C.’s biomass energy push, the Conifex plant will be one of the first major stand-alone biomass power producers since a plant was built in Williams Lake in the 1980s.

The Williams Lake plant produces about 68 megawatts, while the Conifex plant in remote Mackenzie in northern B.C. will produce 36 megawatts. That’s enough electricity to power 16,000 homes a year.

“In terms of a stand-alone electrical generating facility, this is certainly the first in a long time, and the biggest,” said Pat Bell, Conifex’s executive vice-president and a former B.C. forestry minister.

“What I think makes it really important is that Conifex has not gone down a path of just trying to reduce costs; instead, we’ve gone down a path of trying to get more value from a resource. It’s a fundamental operating principle of our company. We want to start at the tree and figure how to get value out of it,” said Bell.

Conifex has spent about $75 million so far, and expects to be ready to begin testing the plant in six weeks.

Bell noted they were able to keep capital costs down significantly by using a mothballed newsprint mill they purchased with two sawmills in Mackenzie.

Other projects are also in the pipeline: West Fraser expects to commission a pair of 12-megawatt biomass power plants in Fraser Lake and Chetwynd in northern B.C. by the end of the year.

And Dalkia, a subsidiary of French companies Veolia Environnement and Electricité de France, is slated to build a pair of 40-megawatt biomass plants in Fort St. James in northern B.C. and Merritt in the Interior.

Construction has begun on the Fort St. James plant, but has yet to start on the Merritt plant. Both facilities are scheduled to be completed in 2016.

Dalkia Canada representative Fadi Oubari said closing of financing for the Merritt project is imminent, noting it involves the same players as in the Fort St. James project.

Construction will start immediately in Merritt after financing is settled, he said.

The price for those plants is pegged at $235 million each, including financing costs.

The B.C. Liberal government launched its bioenergy strategy in 2008, meant to be fuelled, in part, by the vast deteriorating pine beetle-killed forests in north and central B.C.

BC Hydro followed up with calls for proposals for biomass plants in 2008 and 2010.

While most of the projects are fuelled by sawmill waste, some, like Conifex, are also utilizing logging debris from the forest. Because beetle-killed pine deteriorates over time, there is both more waste at the mill and in the forest.

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