Northern Pulp: What lies ahead in 2012

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A welder carries out necessary repairs to mill equipment during a maintenance outage.

(Originally published in the May 2012 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal - "Northern Pulp - Abercrombie Point Mill" special advertising feature)

Entering its 45th year of operation, Northern Pulp continues to focus on the future, balancing the challenges of the global economy, adjusting to new ownership and completing an aggressive capital spending program.

Wayne Gosse, president and chief financial officer, compares the events of 2011 to those of a close hockey game.

“It feels like we have been outshot by the opposition but we are still ahead by one goal,” he said. “Right now, the Canadian dollar is neck and neck with the U.S. dollar which is a true disadvantage for Canadian exporters, and pulp prices have been up and down, with no real consistency. Most of our product is exported to the United States and Europe and is all sold in U.S. dollars.”

Gosse said, on the positive side, the change in mill ownership last March has been a bonus for the Northern Pulp.

“Paper Excellence Canada has backed us in every way and has faith in our product, our employees and the long-term viability of the world pulp market.”

Much of the focus for the mill engineering, maintenance and operations staff in recent months has been the completion of projects under the company’s Green Transformation Program. Under the program, the mill qualified to receive $28 million to reduce its environmental impact and to improve operations efficiencies. The three major projects in the program will reduce the use of fuel oil by 2.5 million litres annually, improve chemical recovery, reduce chemical usage and reduce mill odour by 70 per cent.

The projects were completed during the mill's annual maintenance shutdown last fall and the last few months but are still being fine tuned. The exemplary work carried out by all contract and mill employees during the shutdown — the largest in recent memory — were commended by mill management.

“We are very pleased with the results we are seeing so far,” says Don Breen, vice president of business development and environmental affairs. “Our boiler upgrades are reducing our impact in relation to greenhouse gases and we are making progress on the air emissions side. These projects are very complex technically and it will take time to work out the bugs.”

Gosse says the ability to even consider these kinds of projects is quite remarkable, given the state of the pulp and paper industry in Canada.

“The funds came our way from the Natural Resources Canada Green Transformation Program and reflect the fact we are a leader in energy self sufficiency by recycling cooking chemicals and generating electricity from the chemical recovery process. The mill is self sufficient in electrical energy and at times we even sell electricity.”

Looking ahead, Northern Pulp’s woodlands operations are facing significant challenges, particularly with regard to availability of wood supply.

“In addition to wood from our own lands, wood supply from private woodlots is a key to our success,” says Mike McLarty, timberlands manager. “We have a lot to offer woodlot owners in terms of reforestation and customized harvesting.”

The company continues to lead the industry in its replanting programs, with over three million seedlings planted annually. The Northern Pulp tree nursery near Debert provides seedlings for reforestation of company lands and private woodlots.

“The key to success in the coming months will be to focus on productivity and cost management as well as maximizing the benefits of the capital projects,” says Gosse. “Also, we will need to be flexible in how we deal with wood supply.”

*Read more Northern Pulp stories at: http://www.ns.dailybusinessbuzz.ca/Industry-Spotlight/Northern-Pulp---Abercrombie-Point-Mill-23613

Organizations: Nova Scotia Business Journal

Geographic location: Northern Pulp, United States, Europe Canada Debert

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