Government invests millions into Al-Pac

Government invests $62.9 million into Al-Pac to promote forest innovation
Jan 11, 2011 06:00 am | Derek Clouthier, reporter Athabasca Advocate.
Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) is getting a significant investment from the Harper Government — $62.9 million to be exact.

“This is great news for everybody,” said Brian Jean, Member of Parliament for Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Jean made the announcement last Thursday at the Al-Pac mill to a packed audience that included plant CEO Alan Ward, Boyle Mayor Don Radmanovich and several Al-Pac employees.

The government is bestowing a total of $278 million into mills across Canada, and with this sizable venture into the local region, Al-Pac will be receiving over 22 per cent of that sum.

“Our government’s top priority remains the economy,” Jean explained. “We will continue to take action to protect jobs in Canada, including the important forestry jobs in Boyle.”

The government’s investment into Al-Pac is through the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program, a project that allows for better use of the steam that is currently vented by the mill, increasing its ability to export that renewable energy to Alberta residents.

“This (program) lays the groundwork for a greener and more prosperous economy,” Jean stated.

“These announced projects are collectively expected to produce enough renewable energy to power more than 135,000 homes,” explained Jean, in reference to both his and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s similar announcement in Quebec.

The government’s $62.9 million investment into Al-Pac will be used for upgrades that will allow the company to provide the province’s power grid with enough green electricity to power 8,400 homes.

“This will help strengthen our local economy,” Jean said. “And will help strengthen all of our economies across northern Alberta. It will diversify our economy from just simply oil and gas … a more sustainable investment longer term.”

The additional funding toward the green initiative will result in a more energy-efficient operation for Al-Pac and is expected to add 100,000-megawatt hours of green electricity per year.

Currently, as explained by Ward, Al-Pac produces four megawatts per hour of green energy, but with the additional government funding, that number could jump up to 40 megawatts per hour.

This green energy is produced from renewable fuels called hog fuel and black liquor, which power the mill. All additional power created from the plant is sold to the Alberta electric grid, meaning nearly all power produced by Al-Pac is conservational.

“This is not about the short term but the long term,” Ward explained. “There will be an increase in power demand in the future for this region.”

Jean pointed out that despite some signs of recovery in certain segments of the forest sector, they still have to find ways to use wood and wood byproducts more efficiently.

“Certainly we have been called on by many sectors of this country to produce more renewable energy,” Jean explained. “And this is one of many examples of our initiatives to do so.”

Al-Pac has been operating now for 18 years, and as Ward stated, is the “newest and largest mill in western Canada.”

“It’s very encouraging for me as the operator of a plant,” Ward said, “that we actually have some support from our government to maintain this industry … it’s very important for us.

“This investment is the first step in the transformation of our company into a more diversified manufacturer,” Ward continued. “And one that will be better equipped to compete in an ever-changing global marketplace.”

Jean was exceedingly optimistic about Canada’s economy as a whole, particularly in northern Alberta, indicating how investment in Canada is up, and in respect to the recent economic downturn, that “Canada had weathered the storm better than any other G7 country.”

“Anything we do, and we can do, to secure Canada’s place as a leader in the new-world marketplace worldwide, will help benefit Canadian workers and their families, and will certainly benefit us for many years to come.”

In total, the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program is a $1 billion project.

“With today’s announcement in Boyle,” Jean said, “our government is continuing to implement our plan to support Canada’s forest sector and the Canadians who depend on it.”

With the government’s additional funding, Al-Pac’s upgrade is expected to be running by March 31, 2012.