The Moose Cree First Nation is looking seriously at getting into manufacturing as its next big development project. The First Nation’s economic development department is about to begin work on a feasibility study for either constructing or purchasing an existing facility to make wood pellets.

Wood pellets are typically used by wood-burning furnaces – which automatically feed the pellets into the furnace from a hopper to heat homes – or commercially for power generation in biomass power plants.

The pellets are typically made of waste wood material left over from sawmills, or insect-killed trees that the lumber industry can’t use. When made of these waste products, and not from whole healthy trees, the pellets are said to be a carbon-neutral fuel source.

Bartholemew Smallboy said the idea for a wood pellet facility was the result of brainstorming done by his colleagues at the Moose Cree economic development department while were trying to come up with a solution to the high cost of heating community members’ homes.

“Members of the department were sitting around and identifying some issues that we have in the community, and one of the issues we talked about was the high cost of heating in the winter time,” said Smallboy.

“Not that we think that this facility would address that issue directly anytime soon, but if at some point down the road we could provide some inexpensive fuel to heat homes in the winter, it would be a good thing for us.”

Out of the heating issue came an idea to build or purchase a pellet-making facility that would either be wholly owned by the First Nation or run as a joint venture with an outside forestry company or investor.

The Moose Cree chief and council have green-lit the creation of a feasibility study for the idea, and on Wednesday, the economic development department began accepting proposals from forestry companies and specialists.

“We want anything that anyone might have to offer, such as experience in the value-added wood products sector or equity and debt financing,” said Smallboy.

For the moment, the heating issue that spawned the idea for the facility is taking a back seat for making sure the project provides profits for the Moose Cree First Nation. And while the intention is to provide jobs for Moose Cree members, jobs will be open non-members as well.

If it is decided to build a brand new facility, it would not be constructed near the band’s reserve community of Moosonee; it would be most likely near Timmins, Cochrane or one of the other communities with easy highway access to get the product to market.

“The primary objective is to minimize costs, maximize profits, and create a sustainable business model,” he said.

Interestingly, there might be a potential customer for the pellets in Cochrane, if efforts to reopen the power generating station there are successful. The currently shut-down power plant uses a combination natural gas and biomass to produce electricity.

But it will likely be years before a pellet facility becomes a reality. The deadline for proposals from potential industry partners is Feb. 17, after which the economic development department will spend the better part of the year working on the feasibility study.

If the study produces a viable business plan, then it will be up to the band council to decide if the project should proceed.

“Hopefully it can be done within a couple or three years,” estimated Smallboy. “That’s probably optimistic, but I like to be optimistic.”

Anyone with a proposal for the pellet facility is asked to call Smallboy to set up a meeting with the economic development department at 705-266-3216.