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Millions of dollars announced for local mills, forestry sector

Thunder Bay Pulp and Paper will receive $5 million to modernize and upgrade the mill's electrical system.

THUNDER BAY — A large investment announcement was made today at Thunder Bay Pulp and Paper by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. 

Graydon Smith announced that 14 regional manufacturing and mill facilities would be receiving funding for research, innovation and modernization initiatives with a total of $9.4 million. 

This funding is part of the $19.6 million announcement that came from the province for its Forest Biomass Program announced in December 2023.

Thunder Bay Pulp and Paper will be getting the largest investment of $5 million to modernize and upgrade the mill's electrical system. The next largest funding amount is going to Whitesand First Nation for $1.28 million to help construct a wood pellet plant in the Armstrong region. 

With the $5 million, Thunder Bay Pulp and Paper is anticipating using the cash to update its electrical system and related equipment. They are looking to further expand green energy production at the mill. 

At 100 years old, the mill is in need of some upgrades, said Kent Ramsay, the mill's president. 

"That money is going to go directly into electrical infrastructure to single grid the mill. It allows us to realize more production, more use of biomass, and more green electric power - and to also improve the reliability of the facility's electrical systems.

"This opens the opportunity for more energy saving projects, more green revolution and to start to looking at biofuels and decarbonization efforts," Ramsay said.

This funding comes at a time when the mill in Terrace Bay was abruptly put into a "warm idle" at the start of the year. 

Smith said the province is in talks with AV Birla about what the idling means for the sector and the community. 

"We're taking an all-of-government approach," he said. 

"As a government, we're prepared to facilitate conversations - we're prepared to speak with Birla, or anyone else interested in operating that mill," Smith said, confirming the wood rights would remain with the mill in Terrace Bay. 

When pressed about future talks with AV Burla, Smith said the ministry is able to speak with the owners, but others aren't having the same luck. 

"We have a reasonable relationship with them," he said. 

"We're still in contact - it's not like they won't pick up the phone. But it's the community partners and others involved in the conversation that maybe are struggling to get the return call. I've been encouraging them [AV Birla] to pick up the phone"

AV Birla hasn't provided a clear path to the province on what their future is with the mill, Smith said.

"They announced to us they were going to 'warm idle' the mill. They have not given us a clear path to what their future operation looks like. They have not ruled out a sale. To my knowledge, they have not ruled out any options for the future. I would call that good news."

Katie Nicholls

About the Author: Katie Nicholls

Originally from central Ontario, Katie has moved here to further her career in the media industry.
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