Utility Week

Utility Week 4th October 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Markets & trading hungry pulp and paper mills have suffered the knock-on effects of a decline in print publishing. The global financial crash in 2008 delivered a further blow. The distances involved and transmission constraints limit the opportunity for sending power to Toronto and other high-demand areas. Mining may yet ramp up. The dramatically named "Ring of Fire" in northern Ontario is home to rich mineral deposits, primarily chromite. Would-be exploiters of the resource have been frustrated by infrastructure delays and negotiations with the "First Nation" aboriginal groups living in the area. If and when these issues are resolved, Atikokan could, with a bit more fuel storage, increase its output. Meanwhile, the economic case cannot rest on the power output alone. Great play is made of the jobs saved by keeping the plant running and created within the supply chain, important to local support in a region with above-average unemployment. The 90,000 tonnes of pellets needed each year to feed the boiler will come from within 200km of the power station: unsaleable hardwood in Atikokan and sawdust from a mill in nearby Thunder Bay. From the top of the plant, you can see trees in every direction. Punctuated only by the lakes that feed Atikokan's cooling system, forest extends for miles. A correspondent from US news service CSRwire has a lot of questions about the sustainability of the feedstock, none of which ruffle Atikokan's biomass business development director, Brent Boyko. The fear promulgated by environmental groups is that large-scale biomass will be fed by clear-felling large swathes of forest, wiping out any carbon benefits. But Boyko, who comes from a forestry background, cites research finding that managed forests retain carbon better than unmanaged. Feeding Atikokan's boiler will bring back into use wood that until recently would have made newspapers, he argues. "It really is putting Ontario's wood back to work." As Boyko and his colleagues proudly prepare for Atikokan's reinvention, the future role of biomass in Ontario is unclear. If a price were put on carbon, they say, biomass power would look more competitive. However, there are no plans to do so in Ontario. Until such a time as carbon is consistently valued, the technology's development is at the mercy of politicians. ATIKOKAN IN NUMBERS C$170m (£100m) Cost of conversion 205MW Power capacity HUDSON BAY Ring of Fire belt 10-12% Load factor QUEBEC ONTARIO Atikokan Thunder Bay 90,000 tonnes Annual wood fuel demand Toronto 3,259 Hot stuff It doesn't take an engineering degree to figure out that heat is being wasted at rcelorMittal Dofasco's steelworks in A Hamilton, Ontario. The perspiration soaking your overalls as you walk through the "Hot Mill" is evidence enough. Slabs of red-hot steel weighing 21 tonnes apiece spin past on a row of rollers every couple of minutes. Steam spurts from the mills that squeeze them down from 22cm thick blocks into 0.15-1.4cm thick coils, and from jets to blast off rust. The company – the world's largest steel producer – can put a number on that waste heat: 16.4 petajoules a year. It amounts to 24 per cent of the plant's energy consumption, which mainly comes from burning coal. Recovering some of that heat and converting it into power could save 80,000MWh a year. Other energy-saving measures planned for the Hot Mill will potentially conserve a further 22,000MWh. Together, they amount to the annual consumption of 12,000 homes, 11.6MW less generation capacity needed, or producing 18,000 tonnes more steel at no extra energy cost. It represents a significant saving for a plant that has seen energy costs rise fivefold over the past decade, while iron ore prices rose 350 per cent. Despite the potential savings, AMD was not prepared to invest in such initiatives alone. The payback period is estimated at five to seven years. That may not seem long to a utility company, used to recovering the cost of investments over 20 or 30 years. To a commodity producer without the benefit of a steady and predictable customer base, it is a tougher call. As a result, energy efficiency tends to lose out to investments that boost production quality or volume. The projects are going ahead with the help of grants from Ontario Power Authority. Its Industrial Accelerator programme brings down the payback period to one or two years, making all the difference. Ian Shaw, energy manager at the plant, says: "It is a unique programme. We are the only jurisdiction that has this programme. It has provided this enabler to these really substantial things." Jobs created UTILITY WEEK | 4th - 10th October 2013 | 27

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