To say that the chairman of Pictou County Chamber is excited about a new business prospect for the community is an understatement.
Blair van Veld is over the moon.
The prospect is an investment proposal that comes from an international consortium represented by British businessman Richard Spinks who wants to develop a second generation biomass pellet manufacturing facility in Pictou County.
The proposal targets an investment of $84 million Canadian, and would involve shipping up to 600,000 tonnes of product per annum within 12-18 months of project start.
If it proceeds, this could be a balm to the soul for many in Pictou County dealing with the uncertainty of employment following the announced closure of Northern Pulp.
Van Veld said he was contacted by Spinks, representing RMD Environmentals Inc., a BC registered company, with Indigenous ownership, shortly after Premier Stephen McNeil made the announcement that he would honour the Boat Harbour Act.
“Richard got in contact with me on the weekend of December 21-22 through LinkedIn,” van Veld confirmed. The two had never met before, but as chairman of the local Chamber, Spinks sought him out.
“Some 50 or so emails later back and forth, Richard came here in mid-January and I took him to the Northern Pulp site as well as the former Daewoo site in Trenton. We met with a number of business people in the area and I put him in touch with Sarah MacIntosh Wiseman of the Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network and Jeff Bishop (executive director) of Forest Nova Scotia.” Spinks is expected to share his proposal next week during the Forest Nova Scotia annual general meeting. From there, Spinks was connected with Nova Scotia Lands which currently owns the Daewoo property and he toured the site.
“Some people have been skeptical, but we’re trying to bring business to this area,” van Veld said. “Richard is the real deal and he has a green solution.”
When contacted by email, Spinks was very complimentary with his Pictou County reception.
“Blair has been extremely helpful in familiarizing me with your county and making valuable introductions since I reached out to the Chamber,” he said.
The operation would see an advanced type of biomass pellet, destined for European customers initially, produced in a facility, like the site in Trenton, moved by rail or truck to Halifax port and loaded onto his client’s vessels headed to Europe where they’d be used to replace fossil fuels, like coal.
Spinks said he closely follows developments across Canada and in particular pulp, pulp and paper and large sawmill operations. “With the curtailments and closures of mills across Canada at all-time highs, we are presented with a significant number of opportunities currently in which to invest,” he said.
The announced closure of the mill “struck me as the perfect opportunity to supplant pulp production with cutting edge biofuel technology to support and save the existing forestry to mill supply chain, whilst providing clean fuels in a low environmental impact manner for the rapidly expanding European coal replacement markets.”
Spinks said the Daewoo site is ideal. “The Trenton site, should environmental approvals be granted and the local community support its use, presents an ideal opportunity to us to move quickly. The people working in Nova Scotia forestry and logistics cannot wait two or three years for a solution and we would have built almost the same infrastructure ourselves had we started with a ‘Greenfield’ site elsewhere. The buildings, site size, railway connections and internal fit suit our purposes and will save us 12 months or more, subject to permissions being fast tracked by government to move in and begin production much sooner. This means that there is an opportunity to help the forestry sector within a timeframe that otherwise would not be possible.”
The technology he is proposing, he said, is a well-tested and simple series of proven steps and as a bonus, there is no use of chemicals of any kind – just water and fibre.
“We have ready off takers for production in Atlantic and Pacific Canada, initially of two million tonnes with a world leading energy company who value the product for its high standards of environmental and ecological benefit, both in the way it is produced and in the way that its used by their customers once delivered. It is able to replace coal in power plants or domestic applications at up to 100 per cent with absolutely no requirement to invest in retrofit, simply by refuelling a coal boiler with this product, saving years of investment and shutdowns of existing plants, and able to make a coal plant a clean biofuel plant overnight.”
The whole process, says Van Veld, has huge potential for Pictou County. The biofuel would be manufactured here with a new plant being constructed within 12-18 months. The benefit of this technology is that it will use the same current supply chain that had been selling product to the pulp mill, and transported possibly by local trucking companies to a port, such as the Port of Halifax, for shipment overseas.
“And the fact that there are no chemicals involved in making the product is a bonus,” van Veld notes. “And the Daewoo site, if used, is a bonus because of its proximity to the Nova Scotia Power Plant which could use the pellets to replace coal at some time in the future if that were to make sense.”
Van Veld is excited for the possibilities and the opportunity. But he does not want to put the cart before the horse.
“There is a lot in the process that has yet to happen. But it’s exciting because it’s an opportunity for us to transition our economy to a green industry. Richard (Spinks) has to get government onboard and the local community. I think we have to seriously consider it. I think Pictou County should be onboard and rally behind this proposal. This is a big investment.”