Paper Excellence announced the indefinite closure of its paper mill in Powell River, B.C.
The company said Wednesday it is no longer financially viable to keep the Catalyst Paper tiskwat mill operating amid shrinking global markets and paper prices.
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The mill in Powell River has been producing paper for more than a century. Opened in 1912, it was the first newsprint mill in Western Canada. At one point, one in every 25 newspapers worldwide was printed on paper from Powell River.
Pre-pandemic, it contributed around $500 million to the local economy, according to Paper Excellence. It paid $3.3 million in property taxes annually and had 360 full-time employees.
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The company said 206 jobs are lost, although Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa says the number is closer to 420 because the mill didn’t reopen fully later in the pandemic.
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“They started up one machine with the hopes of also starting up the second machine,” he said. “So it’s really 420 employees that we’re grieving for.”
But there is hope that what’s old can become new again.
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Renewable Hydrogen Canada, a Victoria-based company, has been in negotiations to take over at least part of the site.
“The site has a lot of tools in its toolbox,” Formosa said. “We’ve got clean energy, two hydro dams feeding it, power boilers feeding it, and a deep-sea port, lots of fresh water, a big footprint on the ocean.”
It takes a lot of energy to make hydrogen, and Powell River has it in gigawatts. The plan would be to power oceangoing vessels with hydrogen. The ships themselves will be full of hydrogen for export.
Formosa envisions “a clean site (and) clean energy going into creating clean fuel.”
There is nothing in writing yet, and Formosa is urging all players — the parent company, the province and potential investors — to step forward now before the town’s suddenly unemployed workforce packs up and leaves.
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