Canfor Taylor

Canfor Taylor Energy & Environmental Supervisor Craig Thomson (left) and Mill Manager Bert Eisler.  

Mill's energy efficiency moves earn Power Smart kudos

Nina Winham

It was an idea too good to pass up. Especially with an electricity bill that runs up to $16 million a year.

That's what Craig Thomson of Canfor thought a few years ago when he attended the Power Smart Forum and learned about the programs Power Smart offers for industrial companies.

"Our mill manager and I were listening to the Hydro speakers and I said, 'You know, we really should be looking at this,'" remembers Thomson, the Energy and Environmental Supervisor at Canfor's Taylor pulp mill near Fort St. John. "Within about a month or two we were signed up and on our way."

What caught Thomson's attention was the Industrial Energy Manager Program, where BC Hydro pays a significant portion of the cost of an energy manager for up to two years. The incentive improves if a company undertakes a Sustainable Energy Management Plan (SEMP), the option chosen by Canfor Taylor.

"All we had done before that was an energy audit, and then we kind of sat on it until we went to the Power Smart Forum. We had no goals, no plan, no idea really what we were going to do," says Thomson, whose dedication to finding new avenues to energy efficiency has earned him selection as a finalist for the Energy Manager Award at this year's Power Smart Excellence Awards. "Lots of times you do studies and find out what you can do and how much you can save, but you don't do anything with it.

"Finding out that BC Hydro was prepared to fund a position inside the mill to carry forward projects and get things done – it was an opportunity to jump onto."

With 17 years experience at the mill, Thomson took on the energy manager role and used an outside consultant for specialized knowledge. There was plenty of room for improvement. The mill produces 210,000 tonnes of pulp per year, using bleached chemi-thermo mechanical pulping – a highly energy intensive process.

"Our annual hydro bill is close to $16 million," says Thomson. "It's our number one cost of doing business – even ahead of chips. If you just say, 'Oh, we can't do anything about it, it's a fixed cost, a cost of doing business,' – which you do hear people say a lot when they're talking about the cost of utilities – well, for us it really isn't. It's something we can control; the key is to manage how you use it."

With the information gathered through the energy audit, a subsequent Energy Management Assessment, and with an Energy Manager in place, Canfor Taylor was ready to develop its Sustainable Energy Management Plan.

Projected savings: $1.28 million annually

The initiatives together have identified $1.28 million (40 gigawatt hours) of potential energy savings per year – enough to power more than 3,600 B.C. homes. Some of those already implemented include automating their chip handling process, implementing new wastewater aeration technology, and resourcing an alternative cleaner tip at no capital cost (with a savings of 13 GWh per year on that project alone).

Thomson says that taking a management approach to continuous improvement has been the key to progress at Canfor Taylor.

"If you just do projects, you lack the process to follow-up and ensure sustainability; you can lose track of the big picture," he says. "Having that person who is further away, who looks at the overall integration and impacts that you can have, it's really critical. The efforts of that outside expert to steer the business of energy management and develop the plan has allowed me to focus on the process, which is my expertise."

Thomson says that being nominated for the Power Smart Energy Manager Award is welcome recognition, and it helps raise the profile of the work everyone at the Taylor mill is doing for efficiency.

"My title is 'Energy and Environmental', and they're part and parcel of the same thing: conserving electrical energy and gas, and reducing the carbon footprint," he says. "I'm trying to make this a better place for generations to come, and still have economic development. You can't have everybody shut down and justify it by saying it's bad for the environment and we can't do this and can't do that. You've got to have some sustainable industry and you've got to do it as environmentally responsibly as you can."

Meanwhile, he says moving into the energy manager role has been a great experience. "Quite honestly, before, I wouldn't have had a clue about explaining financing and how all these options work. Doing what I do has put me into fields where I never had done anything like this before. I'm learning a lot.

"I really enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with the guys at BC Hydro, the mill has benefitted and we've raised the profile of what we do here. Do I like my job? I love it. It's a challenge, every day it's something different. You go home at the end of the day and feel you've accomplished something."

So will he return to the Power Smart Forum – where his journey began – again this year? Thomson doesn't hesitate. "I'll go every year."

This year, in addition to new tips and ideas, he just might come home with an award as well.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and a frequent contributor to and the Current Industrial newsletter.