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Kensington mayor blames province for loss of $150M plant, 30 jobs

Joachim Stroink, chief of global partnerships and government relations with SustainAgro, said in July 2022 that the company hoped to begin construction on the Kensington biomass project that October. This is an artist's conception of what it would have looked like. (Submitted by Joachim Stroink - image credit)
Joachim Stroink, chief of global partnerships and government relations with SustainAgro, said in July 2022 that the company hoped to begin construction on the Kensington biomass project that October. This is an artist's conception of what it would have looked like. (Submitted by Joachim Stroink - image credit)

The mayor of Kensington is frustrated that a $150-million renewable diesel plant proposed for the town's industrial park will not happen, and he is blaming the provincial government.

Rowan Caseley says SustainAgro Ltd. is now looking at building a plant in Thunder Bay, Ont., or Debert, N.S., instead.

"What was wrong with the process here? They were able to accomplish more in three days in Ontario than they could here in a year," Caseley said, citing "a major unexplained barrier" in the road to provincial approval.

"What's the roadblock?"

In 2022, SustainAgro started discussions with Kensington officials to buy 12 lots in the town's industrial park to build what was pitched as Canada's first renewable diesel facility. Company executives said the innovative project would lead to 30 full-time jobs.

SustainAgro's chief government and global relations officer, Joachim Stroink, said they decided to abandon plans in Kensington after provincial officials told them last year that a moratorium on new biomass projects was about to be implemented.

Stroink said SustainAgro was told about a month later that there would be no such moratorium, but he said it was too late by that time.

Caseley said the experience with Dorian encouraged the town to speed up its plans for a reception centre, to support residents during future emergencies.
Caseley said the experience with Dorian encouraged the town to speed up its plans for a reception centre, to support residents during future emergencies.

'What was wrong with the process here?' wonders Kensington Mayor Rowan Caseley. 'What's the roadblock?' (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It's hard when you're spending $100 million to $200 million in a province. You want to make sure there is a cohesive alignment, and so it was best to park it for now," Stroink told CBC News.

"Hopefully we can come back at some point and move forward once they get their biomass processes in order."

Caseley wrote P.E.I. Premier Dennis King a letter on Dec. 7, 2023, expressing his disappointment at losing the investment and asking why the environmental impact assessment (EIA) application SustainAgro filed in May of 2023 had stalled.

"The bottom line is Ontario was prepared to receive them with open arms and we closed ours," he wrote.

Sustainability a key issue

Biomass operations use wood chips and other plant matter to produce energy as an alternative to non-renewable fossil fuels.

The Prince Edward Island government has been working on creating a policy to ensure biomass is harvested in a sustainable manner on the Island, after an independent review by the P.E.I. Forestry Commission released in July 2023 raised concerns.

SustainAgro's Stroink said that after that review was released, the company assured the province that any wood used for its Kensington plant would be sustainably harvested.

A SustainAgro email supplied to CBC News outlines updates to its EIA application in the wake of the forestry commission report, committing to use only wood certified by the Forestry Sector Council, even if that meant using barges to bring in wood from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Environment Minister Steven Myers.
Environment Minister Steven Myers.

Environment Minister Steven Myers, shown in a May 2023 photo, said he didn't think it appropriate as minister to meet with SustainAgro officials while the environmental impact assessment process was underway. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

However, P.E.I.'s minister of environment, energy and climate change, Steven Myers, told CBC News that staff from his department had not received that information, and that's why the EIA process had stalled.

"We've heard a lot in the legislature about issues of forests disappearing and I think Islanders are genuinely concerned about it," said Myers.

"We have to be mindful that, you know, 40-year-old trees cut down today are 40 years away from being 40-year-old trees again, so the decisions that we're making are going to impact our future greatly here."

Loss of plant news to Myers

Myers also said there was no provincial moratorium on new biomass projects, and it was news to him that SustainAgro had decided to pull out of the Kensington proposal.

"There's been probably more time spent on this file in government than any other file that I've seen, so I think they've gotten quite a bit of attention," said Myers.

This company was looking to invest in Prince Edward Island with no request for a financial contribution from either the federal, provincial or municipal government. — Kensington Mayor Rowan Caseley

That said, SustainAgro's Stroink said they asked for a meeting with Myers, but that never happened.

Myers said he didn't want to meet with the company's officials while the EIA process was still going on, but he said many other people from the department met with them.

As for Caseley, he said he is confident Kensington will find other businesses for the 12 lots SustainAgro would have taken up in the industrial park. He would still like an explanation from the premier on why this file didn't move forward faster, though.

"Our own due diligence could not find anything that was negative," he wrote in his letter to King.

"This company was looking to invest in Prince Edward Island with no request for a financial contribution from either the federal, provincial or municipal government."