Mill closes wood-burning operation for now

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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Prince Albert Pulp Incorporated is part of the mill located northeast of Prince Albert.

The one operational part of the pulp mill in Prince Albert is being shelved.

Prince Albert Pulp Incorporated, which operates a green energy project that burns waste wood to create energy, currently supplies about 10 megawatts to the provincial power grid. But without quality wood being created on the site, the product simply wasn’t feasible.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said he had heard that the fuel they were burning wasn’t great so he isn’t entirely surprised by the news.

“That system wasn’t working and was costing them way too much to bring in wood to burn,” Dionne said. “If the mill was up and running, the generation plant would just live off the waste matter from that plant, so it would be a big difference to get it back up and running.

“At this point it is closed and we will be making a call to the government to see if they know anymore and see where we go forward from here.”

About 40 staff are currently onsite.

The mill, located northeast of Prince Albert, was originally closed by Weyerhauser in October of 2005. At the time it employed 690 people.

The plant became Domtar property after a massive $3.3 billion US deal between the two companies closed in 2007. Domtar subsequently sold the mill, without ever operating it but dismantling some of the equipment for use elsewhere, to Paper Excellence in March of 2011. The PAPI operation has been active since 2012.

Paper Excellence vice president of operations Dale Paterson told the Daily Herald last December that the reopening of the main mill would occur in about 18 months, which would put it in the summer of 2015.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the company.

After two years of work on it, their original plan to produce dissolved pulp products was sidelined by new countervailing duties placed on the product by China. They then looked to a product called fluff pulp that is highly liquid absorbent and is used in things like diapers. Apparently the trees in the region are well-suited to the product but there is another problem.

The company signed a non-competition agreement with Domtar when they purchased the mill in 2011 and have been in negotiations to find a way around it. No deal has yet been announced.

But Paper Excellence is hiring.

The company currently has 24 help wanted ads on saskjobs.ca for the Prince Albert plant, including four for pulp control support specialist, six for each of maintenance specialist and pulp manufacturing control specialist and eight for instrumentation specialist.

Dionne is hoping that somewhere down the line the news is much better and bigger for the city.

“Of course it is disappointing for us because we don’t only want to see the (plant) going, but we also want the mill to open because there is the potential for 250 to 300 jobs out there for our young people today in the city,” he said. “It is important that they continue to negotiate and try to get the mill open.”

The mill originally opened on Oct. 11, 1968, with the province owning one-third of the facility, which cost $65 million to build. At the time it was the province’s single largest industrial employer, with total direct and indirect employment of 2,000.

 

With files from Jodi Schellenberg and Perry Bergson

Organizations: Prince Albert, Domtar, Daily Herald

Geographic location: US, China

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  • Frank
    August 01, 2014 - 16:47

    Sure would hate to be an employee there, still hiring people than get told we are shutting it down, treating people like broken toasters put on the shelve for a while. The management teams, owners have little to no respect for the employees other than they are just numbers especially when people were still getting hired on for what to be layed off! Simply a horrible company.