After two and a half years of planning, Brad Mapes has finally received territorial government approval to embark on a wood pellet mill project.
Located on a 130-acre patch of land four kilometres north of Enterprise, the mill should be completed by next summer, with plans to start selling pellets by 2014.
Roughly 50 per cent of the product will be exported south to Alberta and other regions, with some potential options overseas.
Mapes said the plant would start producing 60,000 cubic tons a year, increasing to 100,000 cubic tons in three to four years.
One of the reasons Mapes’ final business plan was approved faster than usual is because the project requires no government funding.
It will have an estimated price tag of $11.5 million.
Roughly 65 per cent of the project will be controlled by Mapes himself, while the other 35 per cent will be controlled by five different First Nations.
Mapes, a Hay River businessman and town councillor, was relieved to finally get the green light for a project he believes will be truly beneficial for communities in the region.
“I worked a long time on this and at first it didn’t look like it was going to happen,” he said. “It’s a project that will make a big difference here. We’re creating a brand new economy and a life-long industry that we can build from as we get more demand for our pellets.”
Mapes’ application to the GNWT included nine separate requests, the most important ones being a long-term forest resource agreement and a sole-source supply contract with the government for their bulk demands. Other requests included making sure the government would continue to develop other biomass projects in the NWT.
The wood will be harvested in areas from Bouvier Creek towards Fort Simpson, all the way to the Slave River by Fort Resolution.
Mapes said he is looking at incorporating waterways to bring even more First Nations on board the project, and also plans on partnering with Northern Transportation Company Ltd. to haul bulk pellets down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean.
The state-of-the-art pellet manufacturing plant, one of the most modern in the world according to Mapes, will be built in Portland, Oregon, and shipped up north as modulars. It will be modelled on a few of the plants Mapes has looked at in British Columbia and Portland.
More than 40 people will be employed at the Enterprise site, but Mapes said the ripple effect might create an additional 150 jobs in the region. In an effort to decrease the carbon footprint, all employees will be bussed to the plant.
While some people were concerned with the plant’s location – which isn’t within Hay River’s town limits – he said there is a good reason for that.
“Seventy-five per cent of our harvest area is towards Fort Providence and the Jean Marie area,” he said. “The further we move away from that area, it adds a substantial cost to our harvesting hauling. If the plant was sitting in Hay River, this might not have been an achievable project. In this location, it will still have a huge impact on this community.”
Mapes said the plant’s excess heat would create other opportunities, such as working with local farmers to power their greenhouses “for next to nothing.”
“Hay River’s my home, it’s been good to me and I feel like this is an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said.
“If it fails, I’ll probably be dependent on Hay River,” he joked.
The government implemented its latest NWT Biomass Energy Strategy (2012-2015) in late November, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote alternative, reliable sources of fuel.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), the Department of Public Works and Services has commissioned 11 biomass heating systems in the past five years, with three more currently in construction.
“These installations displace more than 2.4 million litres of heating oil and reduce more than 6,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year,” ENR states in its strategy document.
by Myles Dolphin