Concerns raised over use of whole logs at Pinnacle Pellet plant

Co-founder of Bulkley Valley Clean Air Now says public mislead on material being used for pellets

Whole logs piled in the yard at Pinnacle Pellet plant. (Contributed photo)

A co-founder of Bulkley Valley Clean Air Now says the public has been and continues to be misled regarding source material for the Pinnacle Pellet plant in Smithers.

Len Vanderstar points to the original presentation by NewPro (Northern Engineered Wood Products) to Smithers Town Council before their particleboard operation was repurposed to manufacturing wood pellets.

In the presentation, the company said the plant would use “wood waste from cut blocks, lumber shavings, and sawdust that might be otherwise burned in open burning piles or wood boilers.”

But, Vanderstar says the plant has been using whole, pulp quality logs and private land hardwoods since day one, something that has also led to complaints from neighbours of the plant about noise from the wood chipper.

The Interior News has been unable to get hold of the company’s president Scott Bax for comment, but Doug Donaldson, the province’s forests minister, said it has basically become uneconomical to get pulp logs—cut in the process of harvesting for sawmills—to pulp mills, so they are ending up on slash piles.

“At this point, we’re a long ways from a pulp market as far as economic viability of getting those logs transported or chipped and the chips transported,” he said.

Nevertheless, Donaldson said he is taking the issues raised by Vanderstar seriously and has instructed staff at the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to research the situation.

“If Pinnacle made commitments to town council as far as a way to achieve their social licence, I would expect them to honour those commitments,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Gladys Atrill said it had been her hope the pellet plant would have been a means to achieve both the goals of putting wood waste to better use and improving air quality by reducing slash pile burning. However, she noted with slowdowns in both the sawmill and pulp industries, the change in operators from NewPro to Pinnacle and a shifting perspective on what constitutes waste, it is a complicated situation.

“The issue is not going away, I’m just not sure how we’re going to get to the solution,” she said. “It’s beyond our control as a local government to make something happen here.”

Vanderstar acknowledged it is better that pulp logs that end up on slash piles go to the pellet plant than to be burned.

“If you’re a pellet plant going, ‘if I’m going to spend my time picking through slash or picking pulp wood’… you can’t blame them, they’re going to use the pulp wood, the whole logs,” he said. “They’ve got enough of this pulp wood out there that’s currently being dumped onto slash piles for burning, so yeah, great, they’re at least utilizing it, that’s the good news, but that ain’t how it should be.”

However, his objection is to the pellet industry more generally as a clean energy alternative.

“This changes the whole dynamic of how we look at our forests and how we’re going to use it,” Vanderstar said. “It should never be looked at as a priority source for biofeul.”

Vanderstar pointed to an investigation by the environmental organization Stand.Earth that indicated both Pinnacle’s operation at Strathnaver, B.C. and Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George plant are using whole logs.

The report concludes B.C.’s growing pellet industry, fuelled by export demand from overseas, is putting B.C. forests and wildlife at risk. The organization wants the Province to reexamine the role of pellet production as part of its renewable energy plan.

“The European Union was the first region to heavily subsidize burning wood in place of coal under the guise of a climate solution,” the report concludes.

“Billions of dollars have been — and continue to be — spent to regress energy production from coal to wood, in the form of subsidies and other financial incentives. Japan and other countries are increasingly following this dangerous path.

“The world is facing climate and biodiversity crises. Policy-makers must focus on bringing true forms of renewable energy to scale, rather than misleading the public and contributing to further forest destruction and degradation.”

Donaldson defended the Province’s pellet industry as a transitional phase of the clean energy plan and potentially contributing to phasing out single-use plastics.

“Pellets are an interim step I would say over the long-term because they’re destined to be burned as well, but they displace uncontrolled burns and emissions that we can’t control during wildfires or incomplete burning of slash piles and they displaced coal in other places that’s worse for GHG emissions,” he said. “And then, at the far end of the spectrum those wood pellets can be the source of raw material to displace and be a substitute for plastics and that’s the kind of work that we’re sponsoring through FP Innovations.”

FP Innovations is a non-profit with research labs in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec developing new fibre products and building materials made from fibre instead of plastic.

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