Business

Sand producer shifts from oilpatch drilling to solar manufacturing with new facility in Manitoba

The historic plunge of oil prices last year forced Calgary-based Canadian Premium Sand to rethink its business plan, eventually deciding to shift away from the oilpatch and focus on using its sand to produce solar panels.

Canadian Premium Sand chooses Selkirk for proposed solar glass plant

Canadian Premium Sand wants to produce glass for the solar industry in North America. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The historic plunge of oil prices last year forced Calgary-based Canadian Premium Sand to rethink its business plan, eventually deciding to shift away from the oilpatch and focus on using its sand to produce solar panels.

On Thursday, the company announced it has chosen Selkirk, Man., for a new facility to manufacture glass for the solar industry.

For several years, the company has worked to develop a sand quarry in the province to be used in hydraulic fracturing during the production of oil and natural gas in Western Canada.

"That's not the focus of the company anymore," said Glenn Leroux, chief executive of Canadian Premium Sand, about the shift from the oilpatch to the solar business.

"When prices were reasonable, that's a good business. But this is a better business," he said about becoming 100 per cent focused on solar.

Leroux says many in the company wish they would have made the switch sooner, considering the transition toward low-carbon energy sources that is underway and the growth prospects for the solar industry in the short and long term.

While oil prices have rebounded in 2021, drilling activity remains relatively low compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Leroux is a Calgary-based petroleum engineer who has spent the majority of his career in the oilfield services industry.

"This will be the only plant in North America that makes this solar glass, which is called patterned solar glass. Every piece of that currently comes from China, Malaysia or Vietnam," he said.

The proposed sand development is situated about 200 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, near the Hollow Water First Nation and the community of Seymourville.

While some residents have raised environmental concerns about the silica sand mine, the First Nation has voiced its support for the project.

Selkirk was chosen for the proposed glass manufacturing facility because of its supply of natural gas and hydroelectricity, along with its available labour pool. (CBC)

The mine is expected to generate 30 jobs, while the proposed facility in Selkirk could employ 300 people, the company said.

Selkirk was chosen for the proposed manufacturing plant because of its access to natural gas supplies, renewable hydroelectricity, industrial grade water and available labour pool, among other factors.

"This initiative aligns with our commitment to sustainable development and will create significant economic benefits for our community," said Tim Feduniw, the director of sustainable economic development for the City of Selkirk, in a statement.

Canadian Premium Sand still requires permits for both projects. The Selkirk facility could be shovel-ready by the end of 2022, if the company can secure enough investment and financing.

"There's always concern when you try to finance a project of this magnitude that takes 18 months to build and about six months of commissioning and product qualification," said Leroux. "That's how manufacturing works."

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