By: Business Vancouver
As the name suggests, Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. is in the energy business. But it can also be considered a forestry company, because it has created an extra link in the value-added chain for the B.C. lumber industry.
Many British Columbians will remember beehive burners, which pumped tonnes of carbon and ash into the air by burning sawdust and other wood waste from sawmills.
Those burners have disappeared from the B.C. landscape thanks in no small part to companies like Pinnacle, which has turned that wood waste into a commodity: compressed wood pellets.
“It’s another revenue stream for the sawmill,” said Pinnacle CEO Robert McCurdy. “Before, you’d have the maintenance cost of the beehive burner. Now we come and pick it up from them and pay for it.”
Since it was founded in 1989, Pinnacle has grown to be one of the top 20 forestry companies in B.C., based on head count (275).
The company started with a single pellet plant in Quesnel and is building its seventh in Lavington in the Okanagan – at a capital cost of between $40 million and $50 million – in partnership with Tolko Industries Ltd., which has a sawmill in Lavington.
“Anything that we can do to derive extra value from the co-products that we produce can certainly help the competitiveness of our sawmill industry,” said Michael Towers, Tolko’s manager of energy supply and systems.
Pinnacle also recently invested in a new shipping terminal in Prince Rupert that opened in December, an investment that McCurdy said exceeds the capital cost of the new Lavington pellet plant.
Pinnacle was founded in 1989 by Rob and Jim Swaan, who are still part owners. However, the Swaan brothers did not start out in the forestry business. They were farmers.
Initially, the company was called Pinnacle Feed and Pellet because the mill they ran initially produced animal feed. But they realized that the same process for compressing animal feed into pellets could be used to create wood pellets from sawdust, which at that time had little value. In fact, it cost forestry companies money to get rid of it.