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Pellet plant to undergo long Christmas shut down

Final batch done as of Dec. 7
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The Houston pellet plant is producing its final batch of pellets for 2023 up until Dec. 7 after which it will be closed for at least the Christmas period.

The plant, which has three owners and is operated by one of them, Drax Canada, has been running on a reduced schedule anyway since the closure of the Canfor sawmill next door this spring cut into the quantity of chips and waste needed to produce pellets.

“We are exploring options for our Houston plant, which may include a temporary closure as we assess our fibre supply options,” information provided Sept. 24 by Drax Canada indicated.

It says it will determine plans for 2024 during meetings with the plant’s owners. When those meetings are isn’t immediately known.

Since the Canfor mill closure, the plant’s reduced production schedule as had it operating for one week on, then two weeks off or one week on and one week off.

“Our fibre comes from various sources of residuals. Our teams continually assess the best ways to source fibre, including from an economic and geographic lens,” said the company.

It affirmed that its goal is to operate and produce pellets 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We value our colleagues at Drax Houston and have supported our mill and employees since the Canfor sawmill closure earlier this year.”

The plant was heavily dependent upon Canfor, drawing 40 per cent of its raw material from the sawmill and 20 per cent from the woodlands Canfor has under licence. It employs approximately 30 people.

Canfor owns 60 per cent of the pellet plant with Drax owning 30 per cent and the Witset First Nation 10 per cent.

Drax, a British company that is a significant worldwide producer of pellets and other power sources, acquired its 30 per cent ownership of the Houston pellet plant in 2021 when it bought all of Pinnacle Pellet’s eight pellet plants in western Canada, including one in Smithers. It also has a plant in Alabama.

For its part, Pinnacle had already begun expanding the search for fibre for the Houston pellet and its other plants in the years immediately before the Drax purchase.

Drax, in publicity material located on its website, says 81 per cent of the material used to make pellets comes from sawdust, wood chips and bark left over from turning logs into lumber. The rest of its material comes from the forest.

Drax has 17 pellet plants and developments in the US and Canada and their production is shipped overseas to England and burned in power plants to generate renewable electricity or sold to customers in Europe and Asia.

Opened in 2007, the Houston plant has an annual production capacity is 230,000 metric tonnes, requiring the same quantity of oven-dried tonnes of biomass which is then compressed into pellets.