Merritt’s 33-megawatt biomass Green Energy Project could begin construction as early as Spring 2012, Western Bio-Energy representatives told the community at a public meeting on June 24.

After being shortlisted in January for BC Hydro’s Phase 2 call for larger-scale biomass projects, project director Harvie Campbell said the company is waiting for a decision on their proposal. The plan, he said, is to build a BC BioEnergy Network which would include three biomass electricity generating stations – in Merritt, Burns Lake and Fort St. James.

While waiting for the final word on the contracts, expected by the end of July, the company is engaging in consultation with the public and preparing construction and operations permits.

“These are good projects, so we are cautiously optimistic,” said Campbell, adding that if the proposals are approved construction would begin next year and the plant would be operational by Spring 2012.

The Merritt biomass power plant would be located in the Tolko lumber yard and would use bark, sawmill waste, roadside debris and some standing beetle kill to generate 33 megawatts of power – enough to power 30,000 homes. Using proven technology, the fuel will be burned to heat boilers, creating steam that will drive turbines and generate electricity.

During the meeting at the Civic Centre, project directors explained the project to Merritt residents, answering questions and assuring those in attendance that the power plant would create very little noise or dust if any.

“Dust is an issue in Merritt so we paved the entire site and enclosed the plant in a building,” explained Campbell.

Noise and air emissions seemed to be the main issues on the minds of those that voiced concerns at the meeting. Campbell said that of the three projects Merritt is distinctive because the industrial centre is so close to town.

“These are justifiable concerns; Merritt’s air shed is a very sensitive one,” said Campbell. “There will be some particulate emissions but they will be roughly equivalent to two per cent of emissions from a normal beehive burner.”

Because of this, Western BioEnergy claims that the Green Energy Project will improve local air quality by eliminating beehive burners and the burning of roadside debris.

Besides the environmental benefits, Campbell explained that the Merritt plant would be an estimated investment of $140 million spent in the province and much of it directly in the region. Approximately 80 workers will be employed during the construction stage with 16 full-time positions available when the plant is in operation. In addition, Campbell estimates there could be approximately 30 jobs associated with the fibre supply required to fuel the plant.

“These plants are basically economic stabilizers,” said Campbell. “We have an obligation to keep the plant going for the next 30 years, so if there is a down turn in the sawmills, that just means we have to hire more people to go out and find fuel ourselves.”

Employment opportunities will go beyond just providing work; the company will be offering an apprenticeship and training program as well, said Campbell. Part of the plan involves a partnership with the Lower Nicola Indian Band thus providing First Nations opportunities.

Western BioEnergy Inc is owned by Dalkia Canada, a Canadian subsidiary of Dalkia International, a Paris-based energy company with extensive experience in developing these kinds of projects.