Northern Pulp considers producing electricity from trees downed by Fiona

The Northern Pulp mill as seen in a file photo from 2018. Officials with the company are going to court on Friday in hopes of extending creditor protection until the end of August. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Northern Pulp mill as seen in a file photo from 2018. Officials with the company are going to court on Friday in hopes of extending creditor protection until the end of August. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

Officials with the company that owns the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County are exploring the potential of selling electricity produced from burning fallen trees as a way to generate revenue and dispose of blowdown from last fall's post-tropical storm Fiona.

Paper Excellence Canada's vice-president of energy and business development, Carlo Dal Monte, said the company is considering restarting the power boiler at the beleaguered mill to produce what it calls "green energy." The information is contained In a submission to the British Columbia Supreme Court as part of the Richmond, B.C.-based company's application to extend creditor protection until the end of August.

"There were a large number of trees blown down by the hurricane and this wood fibre needs to be used before it deteriorates," Dal Monte says in an affidavit.

"Without an operating pulp mill, the next best viable alternative is to use this wood fibre to produce biomass energy."

Dal Monte goes on to say that the company is negotiating with "a local energy authority" for a power purchase agreement. The viability of the project would depend on factors including an agreement with the unnamed energy authority, completing an environmental assessment and renewing a water supply agreement.

A company spokesperson declined to identify the energy authority. None of the Pictou County municipalities operate a utility.  A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Power said they are not aware of any discussions with the company about purchasing biomass-produced electricity.

Mediation process continues

The process would not take away from the company's main goal of restarting the mill and it would not delay the mill's environmental assessment process, said Dal Monte.

The company is due back in court on Friday for its application to extend creditor protection.

Along with working toward approval for a new effluent treatment facility and restarting the mill, court documents say the company continues to participate in court-ordered, non-binding mediation with the Nova Scotia government.

The company is attempting to reach a settlement with the government over the fallout of the Boat Harbour Act, which closed the former tidal estuary to effluent from the mill 10 years before its lease was to expire. After failing to secure government approval for a new effluent treatment facility, the mill shut down in 2020.

The two sides have agreed not to speak publicly about the mediation process, which started last fall, and also agreed to pause legal wrangling while the process takes place. Company officials have said they could sue the province for $450 million in alleged losses due to the early closure of Boat Harbour.

Dal Monte says in his affidavit that the company intends to continue to participate in mediation "so long as the prospect of a commercial solution appears possible," but also says that if a resolution cannot be reached in the next four months the company "and other stakeholders will need to redirect their attention toward an alternative means of restructuring."

Considering other locations

Dal Monte says the company is committed to the environmental assessment process and the preferred outcome is to restart the mill where it stands. But he also says that during the creditor protection period the company "may explore options for alternative mill sites as a potential option" if restarting the mill in Abercrombie is not feasible.

"To this end, the petitioners may seek expressions of interest from communities in rural Nova Scotia. These explorations would not delay the mill [environmental assessment] process."

The provincial government is not taking a position in the company's application to extend creditor protection, according to documents filed with the court.