HUNTSVILLE – One of Huntsville’s major industrial employers needs support from energy providers if it is going to stay viable, says Huntsville mayor Claude Doughty.
Doughty spoke at the Sept. 18 council meeting about conversations with bathroom and facial tissue manufacturer Kimberly-Clark regarding electrical feed issues at the Ravenscliffe Road plant.
“Kimberly-Clark is really suffering from some failures in their production. They’ve lost in excess of 30 days of production so far this year,” said Doughty. “That is almost entirely due to interruption in their electrical feed.”
He said some of the plant’s equipment is extremely sensitive and if the power flickers some of the production line may need to be shut down completely. Power failures can also lead to miles of product ending up on the production room floor.
“If that rate of dysfunction were going to continue, it really does cast some jeopardy over Kimberly-Clark’s operation,” said Doughty was reported as saying in the Weekender.
Finding a way to stabilize the power supply is integral to keeping Huntsville attractive to industries such as Kimberly-Clark, he said.
It is an issue that has been looming for more than a decade.
In 2003, the Town of Huntsville conducted a business retention and expansion study and spoke with all the commercial and industrial businesses in the municipality. One of the leading issues affecting commercial and industrial expansion and retention in Huntsville was the cost and reliability of electrical energy.
“There are 200 very good paying jobs at Kimberly-Clark. They have every desire to grow their production in an aggressive fashion going forward, but they can’t do it in the context of having these kinds of interruptions,” said Doughty.
He commented on the plant’s power feed, which is provided by Hydro One. Doughty and town staff met with the energy provider to discuss the plant’s concerns and talk about how to address them.
“Kimberly-Clark really is in need of getting a consistent power supply and with all of the interruptions, especially this year, they are really in a difficult situation,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to work with Hydro One to see why that’s happening.”
Although there weren’t many summer storms this past season, there was a lot of wind and fallen branches.
He said part of the problem is that some of the lines feed all the way to Kearney.
“Even if there is something that happens in Burk’s Falls like a pole getting taken out by an automobile or a tree creating a short, it will affect all the way back to Kimberly-Clark,” he said. “So there are some real challenges there. We need to solve those problems and keep them happy being in Huntsville.”
Doughty said that to Hydro One’s credit it is responding to the plant’s concerns by bumping up line clearing to keep trees back and installing $450,000 in lightning arrestors to help keep the feed stable.
“The perfect solution is to put in a (line with greater power capacity), but Hydro One doesn’t have right-of-way, it would be $30 million and 10 years of environmental assessments,” he said. “That’s not going to help us.”
Doughty put the plant’s concerns in the context of international competition.
“The sister plants in the states have virtually no interruptions and losses and that’s what we’re competing against,” he said.
And a Pennsylvanian plant similar to the Huntsville plant is gearing down production, said Doughty, which is putting added pressure on the Huntsville plant to increase
“They are definitely keen on staying here and they are definitely keen on increasing their production,” he said. “The rumours to the contrary are not true,” he said of the possibility of the Huntsville plant closing.