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Province OKs wood for pellet plant proposal

Miramichi Leader KRIS MCDAVID 

Miramichi (08/19/2014) – A forestry firm headed up by a veteran industry executive described as a pioneer in wood pellet plant construction is moving ahead swiftly with plans to erect a facility in the Miramichi region after receiving the backing of the provincial government on Tuesday.

Premier David Alward joined Ross Creelman, president of Northern Energy Solutions, to confirm the province has issued a letter of intent to the company guaranteeing it a Crown wood supply of 378,000 cubic-metres of softwood if the project moves forward.

The official announcement was made at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.

Creelman, who owned Fredericton-based forestry company Marwood Ltd. before recently selling it, says Northern Energy Solutions is poised to commit $400,000 in order to draft a feasibility study to examine the potential of establishing a pellet mill in the Miramichi region.

Creelman, who is responsible for building Canada’s first ever pellet plant several years back, said he has long been intrigued by the possibility of setting up a facility that could process and provide a stable market for low-grade fibre in the Miramichi region, much of which is going to waste.

He said he’s optimistic about the project’s potential and looks forward to moving ahead with the process.

“I have always been interested in forestry projects in New Brunswick, and I believe this would be ideal for the region – our pre-evaluation study was very positive and now we are taking it to a more detailed stage,” Creelman said in a statement.

“We look forward to getting the study underway and we will keep the public apprised of our progress. This plant would provide an excellent vehicle for the use of pulp in the area which is currently being left on the forest’s floor because pulp mills in the region have closed.”

Creelman noted the plant would employ about 25 direct workers and create approximately 75 jobs in the woods while producing 200,000 tonnes of pellets each year.

The talk of setting up a pellet plant in Miramichi has been ongoing for several years. At one point a few years back, the region’s private woodlot owners struck a tentative agreement with Swedish energy giant Vatenfall AS to move ahead with establishing a facility near the Northumberland Forest Products Marketing Board building in the Miramichi Industrial Park, located in the Newcastle end of the city.

While that plan ultimately fizzled, Alward said in a news release that he’s intrigued by Creelman’s proposal and impressed with his vision thus far.

He said Creelman’s 40-year track record in the sector speaks for itself.

Alward also credited the province’s recently-introduced forestry strategy, which is freeing up an additional 660,000 cubic-metres of Crown timber for private industry, as a key reason the pellet plant project is able to move forward.

“Our government is fully supportive of the overall investment and job creation that would result from a pellet plant, which is why we are pleased to provide the wood allotment from Crown lands,” said the premier.

“I look forward to the results of their research and anticipate that together we can create new forestry jobs in this area for generations to come.”

Wood pellets are a form of wood fuel and are typically made through a process that compresses sawdust and other wood waste used in the milling process.

Private woodlot owners have, over the years, expressed concern that much of their harvests, especially the lower grade pulpwood and biomass, is going unused and being left to sit on the forest floor because there is no stable market to send it to.

According to details of this latest proposal released Tuesday, private woodlot owners are destined to play a big role. Northern Energy Solutions says it will need upwards of 100,000 cubic-metres of wood from private sources each year.

The product the Miramichi plant would churn out will likely be shipped overseas, specifically to European markets, where the pellets would be used as an alternative to coal-fired energy plants.