Highlighting West Fraser’s newest renewable energy source

Nov 05, 2020

At West Fraser, 75 percent of the energy we use at our mills is renewable. That includes energy from residual bark and shavings, biogas, hydroelectricity, and now solar. Alberta sawmills are now purchasing solar energy from a solar farm south of Calgary. The long-term contract with RWE Renewables, Innogy S.E. gives us exclusive rights to the energy produced at the Vauxhall solar plant, with an estimated annual production of more than 35,000 MWh of carbon-free energy.

On July 1, the energy started going into the main Albertan grid, and, indirectly, West Fraser will now get that energy. It offsets about 1.7 percent of our energy usage in Alberta.

“It’s a part of our overall energy strategy,” says Rod Albers, Manager of Energy and Bioproduct Development at West Fraser. “We are trying to mitigate risks and make sure we have a long-term supply of energy. Alberta, in general, is moving towards renewables, and this fits our developing energy portfolio perfectly. We run our mills during the daylight hours  when the solar resource is available, so it’s an excellent balance with supply and demand..”

The Prairie Sunlight III Solar Project is a 24.5-megawatt solar facility and is estimated to offset 22,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

“The deal is exemplary for the modern, competitive renewable energy world,” said Keith Moseley, commercial director of Innogy S.E. in a recent press release. “Besides the fact that we can run our solar farm on a merchant basis, it allows West Fraser to run their production in a climate-friendly manner by significantly cutting carbon emissions.”

Commitment to Renewable Energy

Solar energy is the newest addition to West Fraser’s renewable energy resources. While 75 percent of our total energy use is renewable, solid wood mills are closer to about 85 percent consumption of renewable energy. This is primarily a result of recovering woody biomass for carbon-neutral energy.

Over the past several years across the Company, West Fraser has built 216 Megawatts of total capacity of energy generation, which is enough energy to power more than 140 thousand homes.

We use the majority of our energy for two purposes: electricity and thermal energy. The thermal energy is used to heat the buildings, but also to dry our various products. Our thermal energy comes from biomass (e.g. hog fuel) or natural gas. Our electricity is purchased from the grid, with seven of our sites (including Alberta Newsprint Company) generating their own electricity. Five of the sites create electricity from burning biomass, that’s either converted to steam or another organic working fluid that then creates electricity when put through a turbine and generator set. Alberta Newsprint and Slave Lake pulp use natural gas and biogas to create electricity.  We sell some of the generated electricity to either the B.C. or Alberta energy grids and use the rest.

For a long time in the U.S., we have used biomass energy for the lumber drying process. Some mills do this by generating steam, others by direct firing, and recently we started adopting the use of hot oil.. As a result, our U.S. mills are relatively low emitters of greenhouse gases.

What’s next

West Fraser is committed to exploring new renewable energy sources, as well as investing in more energy-efficient technologies at our plants. In 2016, West Fraser signed onto the “30 by 30” Climate Change challenge. We are pledging to an industry-wide effort to move Canada to a low-carbon economy by removing 30 megatonnes (M.T.) of CO2 per year by 2030—more than 13% of the Canadian government’s emissions target. Our investment in solar energy is just one sign that we’re moving closer to that goal.