THUNDER BAY — Common Voice Northwest's Energy Task Force is applauding the Ontario government plan to continue the contracts of existing biomass electricity generators in Northern Ontario.
The announcement came in last week's 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review.
It stated that the province is "proposing to fund the above-market costs of near-term re-contracting or extensions" of currently operating biomass electricity producers.
That essentially means the government is prepared to subsidize operating costs which climb higher than the industry standard when plants are running below capacity.
Common Voice Northwest represents municipalities, chambers of commerce, post-secondary institutions, labour unions and other groups in northwestern Ontario.
The chair of its energy task force, Iain Angus, calls the recent announcement especially important for Resolute Forest Products and the Atikokan Biomass Generating Station.
Their current biomass-fuelled Power Purchase Agreements are set to expire in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
"Without the operation of the Atikokan Generating Station, the Northwest will not be able to meet the anticipated growth in energy requirements over the next decade," Angus said in a statement Tuesday.
"Not only is it essential that the PPAs be renewed, but the full capacity of the Atikokan generating station must be realized by increasing the fuel supply contract, as well as contracting for an increase in output from Thunder Bay's Resolute mill," he said.
According to Angus, renewing the province's agreement with Resolute will not only continue its supply of about 40 megawatts to the grid, but will ensure that over 650,000 tonnes of waste fibre remain diverted from the landfill, thereby keeping 7,500 truckloads off Thunder Bay roads.
He said a recent projection by the Independent Electrical System Operator shows the Northwest will be short between 102 and 139 megawatts between next year and 2030 under continuing drought conditions.
The two area biomass plants contribute about 90 megawatts of power at present.
Angus said that in order to meet the projected demand due to new mines entering production, the Atikokan GS will need to increase its 50-megawatt output to 200 megawatts.
He noted that this will bring down operating costs per megawatt while creating new jobs related to the supply of pellets from BioPower in Atikokan and the Resolute sawmill in Thunder Bay.
In its submission to the government's Draft Forest Biomass Action Plan, released in May, the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force outlined a number of other benefits from the retention of biomass power purchase agreements.
Besides enhancing the reliability of the electrical grid, the task force said they support the growth of the mining sector, reduction of carbon emissions through reduced trucking of wood waste, providing ash used as a nutrient for farmland, increasing stumpage revenue and reforestation trust funds, and reducing forest fire risk through the harvesting of dry woody material.
Continuing both contracts in the region, Angus said, "will create good jobs in the North and support the forest sector and its workers."