Regional wood pellet shortage forces rationing

New suppliers being found

Wood pellet retailers along Hwy16 have been running out of the product despite rationing quantities to customers after a combination of circumstances has cut supply.

A continuing shortage of pellet-suitable fibre because sawmills were either closed or have cut back on operations and from production problems due to the recent very low temperatures at the only regional plant making pellets for the domestic market have contributed to the problem.

Stores from the Hazeltons to Smithers to Houston to Burns Lake and eastward have been affected.

On Monday, Jan. 6, people were even driving in from the Kispiox Valley in the Hazeltons to the Bulkley Valley Home Centre in Houston in search of 40-pound bags for their wood pellet-burning stoves, reports store spokesman Darrin Super.

“On that Monday we ran out [of pellets] and people began buying [electric] heaters and on the Tuesday, we ran out of those,” he said.

Customers would show up not only looking for pellets for themselves, but for their neighbours, Super added.

His supplier is regional pellet maker Vanderhoof Wood Specialty Products in Vanderhoof and it has not only warned retailers of the shortage due to the cold weather affecting its equipment but has also been advising them to ration the limited amount that it can provide.

The company also cited an extended Christmas shutdown of sawmills supplying it with material as a reason for the shortage.

Super himself heats his home with pellets and he goes through about two 40-pound bags a day in the kind of weather that descended upon the region last week.

He says it may be up to three weeks before regular shipments resume.

Starland Timber Mart in Burns Lake has also had problems keeping a supply on hand.

“We even had a person come down from Dease Lake,” said Timber Mart manager Trennis Wiens.

He’s tracked down a supplier from Alberta and has found one in Washington State to help make up for the regional shortage.

“Those pellets are fir. They’re a premium pellet and while they cost more, people aren’t complaining,” he said of the pellet type from Washington State.

One company in the region that is able to respond to the shortage is Gitxsan Energy from Hazelton.

While its ultimate business goal is to build its own pellet-making plant in the Hazeltons, it has now transformed itself into a bulk pellet seller and will even deliver, says company chief executive officer Rick Connors.

“We’ve dedicated three full time people to handle this,” he said, adding it has made deliveries as far away as Kitimat.

As a bulk supplier, Gitxsan supplies containers holding 330 pounds of pellets, charging a refundable deposit on the container.

If Gitxsan Energy is now an unintended pellet seller, it didn’t have to go far to find a supplier of the product.

Skeena Bio-Energy opened a state-of-the-art pellet making plant in Terrace in mid-2019 right next door to Skeena Sawmills from where it obtains its raw material. The pellet plant has been ramping up since then to full production capacity.

Both are owned by the same parent company and while Skeena Bio-Energy focused its efforts on the export market, it has now structured its sales so it can also supply larger domestic users without affecting overseas commitments.

“Currently we sell to local commercial users who can take larger volumes loaded by our truck loader — approximately one to two tonnes,” says company president Roger Keery.

“We haven’t the facilities to do bagging or retail sales at present, but the plan is to work through getting the plant running to capacity and then work with local companies who could provide the level of service required to do this,” he added.

As of this week, the company is making pellets available at no charge from a container it loaded to test its container loading system.

“This would be a free trial with the understanding that we are not going to be doing this on an ongoing basis until someone can set up local distribution,” said Keery.

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The Skeena BioEnergy pellet plant in Terrace has its eye on supplying the local domestic market. (The Terrace Standard photo)

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