Active Energy Group (AEG) has officially been awarded forestry permits to operate on the Great Northern Peninsula.
On Monday, Nov. 26, Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne confirmed to The Northern Pen that the company had been issued two five-year commercial timber permits for forestry management areas 17 and 18.
Both areas are located on the Great Northern Peninsula.
Byrne says the permits were issued late Friday evening, Nov. 23.
The confirmation comes after a week of confusion and a “he said-they said” volley of words.
It all began Monday, Nov. 19 when Active Energy Group announced approval of the permits.
It sounded like good news for many people in the region who had been hoping for a deal for over a year, to revitalize the local forestry industry.
Yet, according to Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald, there was skepticism.
“I don’t know that anybody was jumping up and down, saying, ‘It’s a done deal,’” she told The Northern Pen. “Nobody that I talked to was. A lot of people were saying, ‘What does this mean?’”
Fitzgerald says she didn’t get excited as she was puzzled that a press release about the deal had not been issued by the provincial government.
She would soon find out why.
On Wednesday, Nov. 21 Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne contacted The Northern Pen saying the province had not issued any timber permits to Active Energy.
“We have informed the company that, pending the resolution of certain other matters, we’re in a position now to look at finalizing arrangements,” he told The Northern Pen. “But those arrangements are not yet finalized, and no commercial permits have been issued to date. It would be by my hand that those permits are issued, and my hand has not signed such deals.”
The day after Bryne’s statement to the media, the company was still maintaining that permits had been issued.
In a Thursday, Nov. 22 news release the company stated, “. . . this press speculation is without foundation as (the company) has received all relevant documentation from the Ministry and is looking forward to developing the relationship further.”
The company said its directors requested a temporary suspension in trading on the London Stock Exchange, pending clarification of whether commercial timber permits had been issued.
The release added that members of Active Energy’s management team were currently in Newfoundland to meet department officials.
“Further announcements regarding the status of the commercial timber permits will be made as appropriate,” the release stated.
On Friday afternoon, Nov. 23 Byrne told The Northern Pen discussions were still underway, that permits had still not been issued could be reached soon.
“If the company can agree to the conditions we have attached to it, this could be imminent,” he said.
As the stock exchange closed for the weekend of Nov. 24-25, trading on the company’s stocks remained suspended.
Byrne contacted the Northern Pen on Monday, Nov. 26, to confirm the deal had been reached.
Trading of the company’s shares resumed the same day.
The company has a total annual allowable cut of 100,000 cubic metres across both forestry areas, equating to 500,000 cubic metres over five years.
The permits were awarded to Timberlands Newfoundland, the local operating company of Timberlands International, a subsidiary of Active Energy Group.
“We’re very pleased to have concluded a fibre-access permit under the Forestry Act for five years,” Byrne told The Northern Pen.
The minister added there is no government money going into the operation.
The company will enlist domestic forestry contractors to cut the wood.
The timber will then be used to make the company's CoalSwitch product - a clean energy replacement for coal sold to European markets.
CoalSwitch is a biomass-based fuel that blends powderized fibre with coal powder and turns it back into coal.
This blending allows the product to pass the European Union's standards for carbon emissions.
The operation will require a sawmill and a pellet plant, as well as a port for shipping.
Active Energy's plans for location of those two facilities, and timeline to have the operation up and running, is not known.
Meanwhile, Byrne said, “We (provincial government) have not directed the company in any way, shape or form as to how or where they'll do business, other than what was prescribed under the conditions of the forestry permit.”
The Northern Pen requested an interview with Active Energy CEO Michael Rowan but he did not respond by deadline.
Earlier stories: Active Energy CEO visits Northern Peninsula