The Cochrane Power biomass plant could potentially have a chance to get its operation up-and-running again.

At its annual meeting on Friday, The Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA) unanimously supported lobbying the provincial government to reconsider the plant for its Large Renewable Procurement 1 (LRP 1).

Ted Griffin, with the lobby group Campbell Strategies, presented a draft letter to the NEOMA members that he will be sending to the Crown-run Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and two staffers at Queen’s Park.

The letter formally requests that the “IESO re-open the bidding for the 50MW of biomass power allocated in the LRP 1 and that it amend its RFP conditions to allow existing facilities without contracts to submit proposals.”

Doing so would allow Cochrane Power to submit a bid to resume operations and produce a portion of the 50 MW of biomass power required by the province.

NEOMA members agreed to include the names of the 15 mayors in its membership as well as its association president and secretary on the letter, showing their support for the motion.

“I think I probably echo the sentiments of the people around this table, and I think we’re all in agreement that basically those types of plants should never be shut down because they provide a service we absolutely need in the North,” NEOMA president Coun. Michael Doody said. “All of NEOMA is supporting you on this one.”

After unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate a contract extension with the IESO last year, the biomass plant was forced to cease operations in May of 2015.

The plant previously transformed natural gas and biomass material, such as sawdust and wood chips, into electricity, which it sold to the provincial government for more than 25 years.

The plant employed about 30 people.

Recently, the Town of Cochrane became aware that the IESO had opened up bidding for industry to fulfill a 50MW void of renewable biomass energy in the province.

However, existing plants without contracts, such as Cochrane Power, were excluded from placing a bid.

Currently, only 12 MW of that need has been filled.

Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis is confident that Cochrane Power would be a viable option to fulfill that need and argues that the limitations to bidding be amended.

“There was a condition that it couldn’t be an existing plant which we don’t understand,” he said. “So we’re lobbying the government, and I think we’re fairly successful at this point, to include existing plants that are already in place that have existing synergies and contribute a great deal to northern Ontario.”

The letter expresses both the positive contributions that the plant will make to the power grid as well as the negative impacts that will be felt by both the Town of Cochrane and a large portion of northeastern Ontario should the plant remain closed.

“We need to demonstrate that there’s an influence across the region that needs to be recognized, and it’s not just Cochrane that’s affected,” Politis stressed. “It’s a biomass issue which is directly linked to all of the forestry mills that we all depend on. It’s one of the biggest parts of our industry, quite frankly, and the province needs to understand when they make those decisions and shut down a plant like they did in Cochrane, on what we believe is an uninformed basis, then it affects a whole region, not just the community.”

He explained that a $20 million economy has vanished from the community since the plant’s closure and that Cochrane’s finances have also taken a major hit.

The town will also have to come up with more money to warm their new community centre, which was designed specifically to be heated for free by siphoning residual heat from the biomass plant.

The life-expectancy of Cochrane’s landfill site will also be impacted by the plant’s absence.

“There’s also about 175,000 tonnes of waste that we have to move to our municipal landfill,” Politis added, “and the perspective is that we have a brand spanking new 30-year landfill taking place next year that is now a 2-and-a-half-year landfill because we’re taking 175,000 tonnes of waste and storing it in the landfill as opposed to turning it into reliable, renewable and responsible energy. It’s a major impact.”

While Griffin doesn’t think that the letter will necessarily produce an immediate reversal of the IESO’s decision, he does think it’s a step in the right direction to lobbying the government to step in and amend the bidding qualifications.

“We don’t think that IESO will write you a letter back and say, ‘Yes, what a wonderful idea, thank you for bringing it to our attention,’” he told the NEOMA members. “However, it will give licence to certain people in Queen’s Park to get their elbows up to let them say, ‘Northeastern Ontario is upset and together on this.”

Politis is also hopeful that the move with highlighting the benefits associated with changing the qualifications so that the plant in Cochrane would qualify for the bidding process.

“We think that a lot of the key factors were missed, and they should have been taken into consideration,” he said. “If they change the qualifications so that the plant in Cochrane would qualify for the RFP process and fill that void it would turn biomass into reliable, renewable and responsible energy, which we think fits the climate change model.”