The Harmac pulp mill has begun feeding power from its new $45-million electrical generation plant to B.C. Hydro, creating a second major revenue source to the Nanaimo mill for the first time in its more than 50-year history.
The project marks the final phase of the five-year initiative begun by Nanaimo Forest Products, Harmac's owners since 2008, to engage in major projects to upgrade the aging mill's systems and make its operations as green as possible.
Since its takeover by NFP, a four-way partnership that includes Harmac workers and three private partners, the mill has seen investments of more than $100 million in capital projects through government grants and its own funding to improve efficiencies and reduce its carbon footprint.
But Harmac president Levi Sampson said continuing work to upgrade the mill's operations to make it more cost effective to meet the demands of the international marketplace and to make its operations more environmentally friendly will go on.
"We're never standing still and are always looking at ways to improve our operations," Sampson said.
"We're constantly investing money back into the mill to keep up with the industry standards."
Harmac and B.C. Hydro signed a 15-year agreement last year that will see the mill sell approximately 15 megawatts from the new 25-megawatt plant electrical generation to the Crown corporation, while using the rest to help meet the mill's power demands.
The mill paid for construction of the plant from its own sources, but the project comes on the heels of the completion of other major upgrades and renovations, worth $27 million, that were paid for from the federal government's Green Transformation Fund, intended to improve energy efficiency and environmental performance in Harmac's operations.
In 2010, Harmac was among 38 pulp and paper mills across the country to receive funding under the government's $1-billion aid package designed to prop up the nation's struggling pulp and paper industry.
The federal funding paid for upgrades to the mill's power boiler, improvements to two lime kilns, the replacement of two out-of-date water chillers, upgrades to three pulp machines and the replacement of the mill's steam-driven turbines with electrical motors, among other projects.
Sampson said that like the rest of the province's forest sector, markets are improving after years of turmoil and uncertainty in the industry.
"But it's still good to know that we have a second revenue stream (with the completion of the electrical-generation plant) to help us through the times when pulp prices are low," he said.