Though it was once on track to be fully operational by this fall, workers recently discovered damage to the turbines at the Merritt Green Energy project, pushing back the potential start date until after the new year.

“We were at the point where we have done testing at 100 per cent electric generation, [and] 100 per cent load,” said John Turner, vice president of operations at Veolia North America, one of the companies financing the construction of the Merritt Green Energy project.

But during a routine inspection following one of the recent tests at the plant, workers discovered damage to the turbine assembly, which is an integral part of the energy generation process, explained Turner.

“A big part of the turbine — the rotor and the blade assembly — has to be sent off site for repairs,“ he said, noting that the company currently has no indication as to what might have caused the damage.

Despite the setback, Turner remained optimistic that other testing could still move forward at the Merritt site while the company inspects and repairs the turbine assembly.

The plant generates electricity by superheating wood residuals and sawdust, and using the gas and steam to turn turbines. A similar project is being constructed in Fort St. James, where commissioning is continuing as scheduled with a goal of being fully operational by the end of the year.

By virtue of that project being ahead of schedule compared to the plant in Merritt, Turner said lessons learned in Fort St. James have allowed workers to avoid running into the same issues in both locations.

He assured the Herald that no commercial contracts would be affected by the setback, and repeated his intention to get the plant back into the commissioning phase in the near future.

“We’re very pleased with the plant performance so far, except for this setback. There is going to be no changes in our workforce as a result of this, it’s just a relatively minor delay and we hope that we are back into commercial operation as soon as possible, maybe as soon as February,” he said.