The Prince Albert Pulp Mill might begin producing raw kraft pulp product as soon as 2020.
That is, depending on how the market fares, Paper Excellence senior vice president of operations David Kerr cautioned.
It’s the clearest pledge Kerr could offer those who gathered to hear him speak at a Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Thursday.
The Prince Albert Pulp Mill’s post-Weyerhaeuser story is one that carries many hopeful moments whose potential has yet to be realized.
Weyerhaeuser closed the mill in 2006, forcing about 700 people into unemployment.
Domtar Corp. purchased the mill from Weyerhaeuser the following year, selling it to Paper Excellence in early 2011.
Under a non-compete clause with Domtar Corp. that prevents them from producing kraft pulp product at the Prince Albert Pulp Mill site until 2020, Paper Excellence initially looked at producing dissolved pulp product.
China quashed these plans in 2013 with new 50 per cent countervailing duties on the import of this product.
So, Paper Excellence shifted their focus to fluff pulp, but further study revealed that local area wood was not conducive to producing the product, best known for its use in incontinence products.
While this was happening, a wood-burning energy generation effort ran at the Prince Albert Pulp Mill site for a brief time, supplying power to the SaskPower grid and employing about 40 people. This effort was shuttered in mid 2014 due to a lack of waste wood coming in to fuel the operation.
This series of letdowns has been punctuated by recent news that several buildings on the Prince Albert Pulp Mill property will be torn down this year.
These buildings make up the site’s former papermaking operations, Kerr explained on Thursday, noting that they have “absolutely nothing to do with the pulp-making.”
As it stands, the intent is to re-open the pulp side of the mill in 2020, at which time they’ll recommence operations with between 240 and 250 employees, Kerr shared.
They would produce bales of dried pulp that would be exported to markets overseas, primarily in Asia.
The energy generation effort would also recommence and expand — an operation Kerr said would be a necessary in keeping the effort financially viable.
A refurbishment and modernization of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill could begin as early as 2018, Kerr said, noting that it’s a lengthy process.
There’s little hope Domtar Corp. will allow Paper Excellence out of the non-compete agreement, which ends in 2020, Kerr said, clarifying:
“The former owner has been reluctant to agree to the terms that we’re suggesting, and those talks … are not as active as they once had been.”