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April 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

Forestry spin-off

A spin-off utility venture has been set up to use recovered hot water from Canfor’s co-gen plant—which is burning wood residuals—to supply hot water heating to buildings in Grande Prairie.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The city of Grande Prairie has a long association with the forest industry, which explains why it has successfully hosted the Northern Alberta Forestry Show (NAFS) every second year for the past 20 years. However, the city is now taking that relationship a step further. It is taking advantage of a byproduct generated by Canfor’s new power co-generation plant recently constructed at its Grande Prairie sawmill. Through a municipally owned utility called Aquatera, Grande Prairie is developing a commercial hot water heating system.

Grande Prairie Regional College will soon be using hot water heat that is generated from burning residual wood products.

The utility, owned by the city, county of Grande Prairie, and town of Sexsmith, will use hot water generated by the co-generation plant to heat several large buildings in Grande Prairie. In exchange for their investment, the county and Sexsmith will receive access to city water. The hot water heating system may eventually expand beyond the city’s borders into these municipalities.

“This type of hot water heating is very common technology in Europe,” says Grande Prairie mayor Wayne Ayling, who traveled to Sweden last August to learn more about the technology, along with 40 other Canadian officials.

Canfor’s Grande Prairie sawmill: a new co-generation plant is taking residual from the mill and turning it into power.

The project to install three hot water supply loops will cost about $19 million and be completed over two years. The Alberta government has provided Aquatera with a $2.4 million loan as part of its support for alternative energy projects, to help get the project started. Specially insulated pipes are being imported from Europe and will be installed along existing municipal easements. The hot water will be supplied to buildings already equipped with hot water heating systems, such as hotels, schools, Grande Prairie Regional College, the hospital, city hall, and the new RCMP building.

The main difference between conventional hot water heating systems and the Aquatera system is that the hot water used to heat these buildings will come from water heated by burning residual wood products, rather than natural gas. The wood residuals are burned at the Canfor sawmill to heat water to generate steam that is used to drive a power turbine. The steam is then collected as hot water in a recovery tank. Aquatera will use this recovered hot water for its heating system.

Ayling says Canfor’s conversion to co-generation at its Grande Prairie sawmill has done more than produce a source of green energy. It has also reduced particulate emissions by 80 per cent. He adds that Canfor’s co-operation in this venture is just another example of how the forest industry is helping to benefit the community. The city also plans to purchase power generated by the co-generation plant.

Darren Kjemhus, ATB Financial business banker and chair of the Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce, says the size of the region’s forestry sector is a major reason why the Grande Prairie area is so prosperous. It has attracted many of Canada’s largest forest companies, including Weyerhaeuser, Canfor, Ainsworth, and Daishowa-Marubeni International, manufacturing a variety of products such as dimension lumber, oriented strand board and pulp. The region is even becoming a springboard for development of the province’s secondary wood manufacturing sector, with the recent purchase of Weyerhaeuser’s Grande Cache dimension sawmill by Quesnel, BC-based, C & C Wood Products. The sawmill is being converted into a wood panel plant to serve the do-it-yourself market. Grande Cache is about an hour south of Grande Prairie.

Grande Prairie was Canada’s second fastest growing city between 1996 and 2001, and that trend continues today. “The city has a business philosophy that what is good for the region is good for the city,” says Ayling. “We work wherever possible to let people know how dynamic our economy is, and what opportunities there are for employment in the forest industry.”

He points out that 75 per cent of the city’s population is under the age of 45. “The forest industry needs a young, skilled workforce and the city of Grande Prairie is attracting exactly those kind of people here,” says Ayling. “We are doing our part to ensure that we have a family oriented-city.”

Kjemhus says other than Canfor’s recent decision to close its Hines Creek sawmill, the region’s forestry sector has remained relatively stable as compared to communities in other parts of the country, which have suffered from the fallout of American tariffs on softwood lumber. In fact, he says local forestry companies are stepping up their investments, in an effort to become even more efficient.

He says he has noticed that several smaller sawmills in the area are making the transition into more value-added production and manufacturing niche products, realizing that there is considerable demand within the global market for these types of products.                                                                                

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