Jan. 24, 2017 - We can now be cautiously optimistic that prospects for Canadian wood pellet producers are beginning to improve as we have now entered 2017.
In Europe, industrial spot prices are beginning to firm amid reports of low pellet inventories and reports of pellets being diverted into the residential heating market originally destined for industrial end-users. Below-average temperatures are buoying residential pellet demand. At the recent Central European Biomass Conference in Graz, buyers were saying that it is becoming difficult to procure European industrial or residential pellets for immediate delivery. Premium pellet shortages in Italy, Austria, Germany, France and Spain have tightened supply across the continent. Increased residential market demand in Spain and Portugal has soaked up a lot of supply from Portuguese producers.
In Asia, spot wood pellet prices are slowly trending in the right direction as firmer demand has tightened available supply in the region. Although the bulk of wood pellets sought by South Korean utilities come from Vietnam, recent flash floods in south Thailand, where many wood pellet mills are based, contributed partially to a shortage of pellets in the Asia-Pacific region.
WPAC, together with its partner Quebec Wood Export Bureau, will hold a training seminar for ENplus and CANplus quality certification on March 30 in Montreal. This event is intended for new program entrants and for quality managers from certified producers who are required to attend external training at least once a year. This is especially timely in light of strong export demand for residential pellets.
Final figures have not yet been collected by the Global Trade Atlas (GTA) from national statistics agencies of producing countries for 2016 exports. Various countries have reported up to the end of October or November. I have forecasted the final figures for several countries of interest in the table below using data from GTA.
Notably, the United States will likely end up at the same figure as 2015, while Latvia will show a slight decrease from the previous year. Canada, on the other hand, will end up with a whopping year over year increase of 770,000 tonnes or 47 per cent - partially the fruit of three new plants in BC (Tolko/Pinnacle and Canfor) and two in Ontario (Rentech). This is the first Canadian increase in wood pellet exports since 2013.
Remarkably, despite exporting about 85 per cent national wood pellet production, Canada has been importing small quantities of wood pellets. For the past three years, we have imported more than 20,000 tonnes from the United States, which is all the more remarkable considering a 30 per cent foreign exchange disadvantage with Canada. And Canada has imported 7,000-8,000 tonnes of black pellets from Norway for consumption by Ontario Power Generation at its Thunder Bay power plant.
Gordon Murray, along with Canadian trade commissioner Judith Baguley, met with officials from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs on January 16. Here is the most recent situation:
- The Dutch government is set to release the results of the fall SDE+ auction. Industry observers expect RWE, Uniper, and Engie will be successful.
- The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, has recommended to government that there should be no further closures of coal-fired power capacity. The government had been contemplating shutting down Nuon's 650MW Hemweg 8 and German RWE's 640MW Amer 9 units. Subject to a final decision from the Dutch government, there is now a good chance that these plants will stay operational.
- The country's newest plants commissioned in 2015 and with 46pc efficiency — RWE's 777MW Eemshaven A and B and Uniper's 1,070MW Maasvlakte 3 – are also set to remain operational.
- RWE will begin co-firing wood pellets with coal at its Amer 9 facility in 2017 at a rate of 50 per cent, ramping up to 80 per cent by 2020.
- While the biomass sustainability criteria has been set for some time now, we have been awaiting final confirmation of verification procedures and which third party certification schemes will be accepted for the long term. The MEA will release the verification procedures "soon". They are forming an expert committee to review the third-party certification schemes and will seek input from WPAC regarding who should participate.
- The subsidy rate for producers of process heat - i.e. from the chemical and food processing industries - has been increased. Unlike with biomass co-firing, there is no restriction on the amount of biomass that may be consumed. This potential pellet market segment is expected to be at least as large as for co-firing, which has been set at 25 PJ or 3.5 million tonnes per year.
The situation in the UK is also developing.
- The CFD contract for Drax Power's third converted biomass power unit received state aid approval from the European Commission in December. This will mean ramping up from 85 per cent to 100 per cent wood pellet consumption.
- The long-awaited Lynemouth and MGT Power projects are both under construction.
- The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has launched a call for evidence on the bioeconomy. It is their intention to develop a strategy for the "bioeconomy which is appropriate to the UK’s industrial structure and availability of natural resources". WPAC will participate in a response through its membership in the UK Renewable Energy Association.
WPAC’s executive director, Gordon Murray, together with representatives of USIPA and AEBIOM, attended the December 8 board meeting of the Sustainable Biomass Program. Producers continued to be frustrated by SBP’s unwillingness to allow the pellet producers to participate in the governance of SBP. However, SBP's board has asked CEO Carsten Huljus to draft a recommendation for transition to a multi stakeholder model that could eventually allow for producer and NGO participation. Canadian producers also continue to be frustrated by SBP's lack of progress in approving Canadian certifications. We have producers who have been audited more than a year ago, and who have even completed annual surveillance audits, that have yet to receive a response from SBP regarding certification.
WPAC is planning to hold its 2017 AGM and Conference in Ottawa on September 18-20. This year we are co-producing our event in cooperation with IEA Bioenergy Task 32. On September 18, we will hold the AGM, followed by a tour of Lauzon's pellet plant and several biomass heating installations ... and that evening we will have a party to celebrate Canada's 150 birthday! On September 19, in light of the Government of Canada's recent announcement that the country will phase out coal power, we will focus on wood pellet co-firing and dedicated firing. On the 20th we will focus on domestic heat. We will invite the Minister of Natural Resources and key personnel from Natural Resources Canada, Global Affairs Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
We are planning to arrange a two-day post conference visit to Thunder Bay and Atikokan to tour OPG's biomass power plants and hopefully local pellet plants. More information will be coming soon!