BC Hemp president Remi Balaj announced big plans Thursday for the pharmaceutical and industrial hemp industry in northern B.C. – plans that involve approximately $15 billion in investment and the creation of 15,000 direct jobs.
In a live-streamed interview with Clint Chappell of the B.C. Resources Coalition, Balaj announced the purchase of a site in the city to develop an ethanol refinery and large greenhouse complex.
"We just entered into a purchase agreement for 300 acres in the BCR Site. We finalized that today," Balaj said. "We are looking to start (construction) in six months. Six months to 12 months."
BC Hemp moved quickly to buy the site after West Coast Olefins announced it intended to move its proposed petrochemical complex north of the city, Balaj said.
The proposed ethanol refinery would use the stalks from hemp produced in the region as feedstock to produce medical-grade and industrial-grade ethanol. Waste heat from the refinery would be used to generate electricity and heat the greenhouses, he said.
The complex is expected to cost $1.2 to $2 billion and create a total of 2,000 direct jobs between the refinery and the greenhouses, he said.
In March, the company announced its plans for a $350 million industrial hemp facility at the corner of Johnson Road and the Old Cariboo Highway, as well as plans for a hemp research facility and 100-acre test farm, and a medical clinic and pharmacy in College Heights.
Renovations on the clinic and pharmacy location are set to start next week and they hope to break ground on the industrial hemp facility in July, Balaj said. Talks have been underway with local farmers and the plan is to have hemp crops planted next spring.
The company is also scouting locations for plants to produce plastic pellets from hemp oils and a biofuels plant that would use hemp seeds to produce biofuels for vehicles. The company has its eye on the fuel supply chains for marine, automotive and aircraft use, Balaj said.
Through a partnership with Fort St. John-based Arctic Construction Ltd., the group has purchased a site in Stewart's port to develop a marine fuel mixing facility. Arctic is planning to build a railway expansion to link Stewart to the main CN Rail corridor along Highway 16, near Kitwanga, Balaj said.
The company is also working with the Swan family, founders of Pinnacle Pellet, on plans for a food-grade hemp pellet plant near Quesnel, Balaj said. The pellets would be useable for things like beer production and animal feed, once they pass the regulatory hurdles.
"What we are trying to do is get Prince George on the world map. We can do it in the big cities, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton... why not Prince George?" Balaj said. "Over all the projects, we are going to be close to $15 billion – not just in Prince George."
The combined initiatives, expected to take several years to reach fruition, could employ up to 15,000 people directly, he said.
"Given what is happening in the forestry and oil and gas sectors... I think we're going to have a lot of resources available," he said. "I think we're going to fill a lot of these positions locally."
Financing their ambitious plans required looking internationally, Balaj said.
"There are some international banks we are dealing with. Internationally, a lot of people know about Prince George. When we had our (grand opening) announcement, we had people from England, Germany," he said. "Locally, we couldn't work with anyone."