The province may have made a commitment to no new coal-fired power plants, but it appears it can’t prevent Howe Sound Pulp and Paper from burning coal in its Sunshine Coast mill.
According to a report compiled by the Howe Sound Community Forum, the mill has intermittently been burning coal in its wood residue boiler, despite the fact Howe Sound Pulp and Paper’s permit does not include coal as an approved fuel source.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District recently added its voice to those opposed to the coal burning, sending a letter to the Environment Ministry. However, because the mill’s permit doesn’t expressly prohibit burning coal the practice is continuing.
In November 2006 Howe Sound Pulp and Paper approached Ministry of Environment officials with a proposal for a one-week coal burning trial during the mill’s annual maintenance shutdown in early 2007. During the wetter months, coal would be added to their “hog fuel,” which is a mixture of bark and other chunks of woods typically used to fuel the boiler and create steam to run the facility.
But in order to burn coal, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper was told they would need to apply for a major permit amendment, which would require technical evaluation and public consultation.
A month later Howe Sound Pulp and Paper again approached MoE about the coal burning trial, but this time the company presented a legal argument that because the permit does not expressly prohibit coal burning, they have the right to burn it.
While MoE’s legal counsel agreed, the ministry maintains the permit was intended to authorize discharges from a wood residue boiler with a fuel source of low salt content wood residue and a limited amount of natural gas and oil.
“Our intent with the permit was to stick with the fuels and the situations that were described in the permit, but because it didn’t explicitly prohibit, there was a legal loophole,” said Jeff Fournier, who is with Environmental Management for the Ministry of Environment.
Fournier says the loophole means that HSPP hasn’t had to go through the proper procedures to receive a permit amendment.
“There’s a process — there’s technical evaluation, public consultation… prior to an evaluation of potential environmental impacts of changing fuel to something like coal or any other fuel that they may desire to burn.”
But the ministry is now taking steps to begin the permit amendment process, though Fournier couldn’t say whether or not they would amend the permit to include coal or new fuel sources, explaining they first need to get more technical information from the company.