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Lessons from the EU: forestry president scouts Europe for renewable energy ideas.

The president of the fledging White River Forest Products is looking for some European inspiration to restore a dormant northwestern Ontario sawmill back to full operation. Jeff Butler was part of a technology trade mission organized by the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CANBIO) that toured bio-heat, power and pellet facilities in Austria and northern Italy in May.


The trip was an opportunity to view machinery in action and see how the project economics work in Europe.

"It was mainly a fact-finding mission. We wanted to understand the dynamics of district heating and how it fits into the overall operation. Often it's a stand alone business (in Europe)."

Butler is looking to secure more 550,000 cubic metres of Crown fibre supply to restart a former Domtar mill as part of a $90-million value-added, wood pellet and co-generation plant.

The company is a three-way partnership between Butler, the Town of White River's economic development department and the Pic Mobert First Nation.

The CANBIO trip featured tours of sawmills and how some European communities use mill residuals for district heating and combined heat-power projects.

For example, the Austrian town of Gussing, considered a revitalized renewable energy boomtown, has an eight-megawatt thermal gasification plant and several district heating plants of various sizes.

"That's what we're working on in White River in quite a bit detail right now," said Butler.

Long-time White River Mayor Angelo Bazzoni has wanted to install a district heating plan for the community of 840 since the mid-1990s.

Butler came away impressed by the boiler technology used for mill heating and district heating plans.

In terms of job creation numbers in renewable energy, Butler said most of those are found in basic primary industry and woodland operations.

There have been numerous Northern Ontario forestry delegations that have toured the European Union in recent years.

Many have come back enlightened by these countries' practices in harvesting and utilizing every square cubic metre of fibre using innovative technology and biomass as renewable fuels.

Butler said some paper mills like AbitibiBowater's Fort Frances mill have gone to biomass co-generation and there are small pellet operations such as in Ear Falls.

However, progress on this front has been challenging because of the long-standing issue of getting feedstock from Crown land which involves consulting a number of stakeholders and is a highly regulated process.

European companies harvest private land and they work closely with landowners on harvesting projects. Many European landowners bundle all tree tops and dead branches which are used for firewood.

On the regulatory side, Butler noticed the lack of a silo mentality and a greater cohesion between the various government agencies involved in forestry.

What he discovered is the abundance of government energy programs that make it easier for entrepreneurs and start-up companies to get into, and survive, this challenging business.

In Austria, between the country, state and municipalities, there are 120 assistance programs such as tax incentives and grants for capital requirements.

For all the ideas, concepts and technology he viewed, Butler said no decision has been made to import any machinery for White River.

Activity at the White River mill site this summer will be limited to road building and some harvesting.

The company is still finalizing its project financing options under weak market conditions. Butler said much of their future plans depend on the successful approval of their application to the Ontario Power Authority under the Feed-in Tariff Program for the heat and power. "It's critical to the long-term viability of the mill."


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:FORESTRY
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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