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Williams Lake power plant, city’s biggest tax payer gives 1 year notice

Atlantic Power has given BC Hydro notice on the current contract, citing financial viability

Williams Lake’s largest single taxpayer has put its employees, the city and BC Hydro on notice.

Appearing as a delegation at a committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 6., spokespersons for Atlantic Power Inc.’s Williams Lake power plant say the plant will close by mid-January 2025 if something isn’t done to address a lack of available fibre which is limiting the plant’s viability.

The company has given a 12-month termination of contract notice to BC Hydro on their current contract for the Williams Lake plant.

Sean Gillespie, vice president of operations for Atlantic Power, and Frankie Nelson, on site business manager for the Williams Lake plant, spoke to Williams Lake mayor, council and staff in the Rick Hansen Boardroom at city hall Tuesday evening seeking city support to find a solution.

“The reason for this is economic hardship,” said Gillespie, noting they want to work with the city and other stakeholders to keep the plant viable.

He told council the ideal solution would be a combination of higher rates and securing economically viable fibre to operate the facility.

As mills slow down and go further and further away for wood, it becomes more expensive to haul the wood waste to the plant and waste is instead burned in place in slash piles in the bush.

The notice Atlantic Power has given can be retracted if a solution is found before October 16.

Frankie Nelson said while Hydro is calling for more power, Atlantic Power is unable to bid on any new call for power until they complete their current contract, signed in 2019 for a 10-year period.

The Williams Lake power plant produces enough energy to power 50,000 homes.

“We know we’re important to their grid,” said Nelson, noting the plant burns 400,000 tonnes of wood waste at its current level of operation, which is below full capacity. She said ash from the plant goes to farmers fields as a soil conditioner as well.

The plant was built in 1991 to address an air quality issue in the city caused by bee hive burners burning mill waste within the city and reduced emissions by more than 90 per cent.

Atlantic Power, with 28 direct employees, and providing about 100 indirect jobs, is also the largest single taxpayer in the city with an annual tax bill of $1.2 million, said Coun. Scott Nelson at the meeting.

“It’s very important as a community you look to the future,” he said.

City council voted in favour of a motion to support Atlantic Power.

They pledged the support of their economic development office and promised to lobby other levels of government to find a solution.

“With reduced forest activity, there is increased competition in the region for fibre, and that is affecting prices,” said Gillespie.

In 2019, the city approved an expansion of the Pinnacle’s Williams Lake pellet plant, which also takes wood waste to make wood pellets used in pellet stoves. The Williams Lake pellet plant, along with 10 others owned by Pinnacle, was purchased in 2021 by British-owned Drax Power Ltd.

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Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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