Irving Pulp & Paper says it’s submitted preliminary plans for a $1.1 billion, four-year capital project at its Saint John mill that includes replacing its recovery boiler and installing a steam turbine.Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A proposed overhaul at Irving’s pulp mill on the west side of Saint John could boost output by two-thirds by replacing the mill’s recovery boiler and adding a new steam turbine, the company says.

In a press release, Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd., a subsidiary of J.D. Irving Ltd., says it’s submitted its preliminary application for a $1.1 billion capital improvement plan titled NextGen. The project, which could be in construction for four to six years, involves replacing the 1970s-era recovery boiler at the mill and decomissioning a power boiler that ran on Bunker C heavy fuel oil.

Irving says the new recovery boiler can increase production by approximately 66 per cent and would “facilitate” other environmental upgrades, including upgrades to the mill’s bark boiler, a new steam turbine and “green energy generator” as well improvements as to re-use water at the mill, according to the press release. Switching from heavy fuel oil to steam power and natural gas is expected to also reduce greenhouse gases, Irving says.

“These upgrades will ensure Saint John’s pulp mill continues to be at the heart of the province’s forest products supply chain, and provides a regional market for chips, bark and pulpwood,” Mark Mosher, Irving Pulp & Paper’s vice-president, is quoted as saying in the release.

The environmental impact assessment completed for Irving by Fundy Engineering says that the global market for Kraft pulp production is “extremely aggressive” and that Irving Pulp & Paper is a “relatively small player in it,” but with the changes the firm will become one of the top 10 producers of softwood Kraft pulp globally. Currently, the mill produces 1,000 air dry metric tonnes of product daily, and according to the assessment, that is set to increase to 1,800 air dry metric tonnes.

“The project will help ensure the forest products sector continues to be a major driver of economic activity in New Brunswick for decades to come,” the assessment reads. “This is especially important considering the forest products cluster generates more economic activity than any other industrial cluster in the province.”

According to the assessment, the new, more efficient boiler will generate steam powering a turbine that will create 140 MW of power, up from 30 MW currently, half of which will be used at the mill and half of which can be sold to “local markets,” including NB Power. Irving says in the assessment that it will cut annual emissions per tonne of pulp by 50 per cent. While total emissions, including indirect emissions from power generation, will decrease, emissions from operations alone will increase along with the jump in production.

Because the new boiler will use “dry technology” to scrub boiler emissions, the new upgrades will “significantly reduce” the visible plume from the boiler that can currently be seen on the skyline, according to the assessment. Irving claims the changes will have a positive impact on air quality, with emissions reductions of 35 per cent of fine particulate matter and 37 per cent of total suspended chemicals, as well as a 49 per cent drop in odor-causing sulphur dioxide emissions.

Irving says the mill has undergone $950 million in modernization upgrades since 2006 without increasing production in order to prepare for this fourth phase of its modernization projects, which involves a production increase.

Irving Pulp & Paper was fined $3.5 million in 2018 resulting from three Fisheries Act convictions related to leaks of effluent into the St. John River from 2014 to 2016. As part of the sentence, it pledged to build a new effluent treatment facility, which is part of the in-progress Phase IIIB of modernization, according to the environmental impact assessment.

The assessment calls it a “generational” investment in the Saint John region’s economy, and the biggest investment in Canada’s forest products industry since 1993. Irving says that the project includes $172 million in tax revenue for local governments and $539 million in employment income over the length of the project.

An economic assessment from Jupia Consultants, Inc. suggests the project will generate between 210 and 721 full-time jobs over four years, with a projected maximum of 832 workers at the height of the project. It also suggests the increase in production will lead to 600 additional jobs throughout Irving’s forestry supply chain.

The study notes there are potential impacts from noise and traffic related to the site, but says the loudest work will be kept to daytime hours while the moving of heavy loads will be kept to off-peak traffic times. Once the project is complete, no additional staff will be required to run the new equipment, but there will be an expected increase of 80 additional trucks in and out of the site per week to keep up with added production, according to the assessment.

The assessment says consultation has been ongoing since November 2022 and that project staff have met with representatives from the province’s department of aboriginal affairs, department of the environment as well as the city. It says the next step is direct communication with local politicians, nearby residents, as well as business and environmental groups.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said there are “lots of questions left to be answered and there’s lots of great possibilities” resulting from the project.

“They’re a big employer … I want to be supportive of them as best I can,” Reardon said. “I’m just hoping as we go forward on this big lift, stage four, that there will also be some gain for the environment as well with it.”

Additional wood chips to fuel the added production will come from managed Irving forest stands as well as biomass, including chipped wood currently being left to decompose, according to the environmental impact assessment. JDI has filed an application to convert the Bald Mountain Rock Quarry site in West Saint John to a wood chip facility.

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 31, 2024 at 17:22

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick
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