Will turning waste wood into energy work on a large scale in the West Kootenay?
The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) aims to investigate how to use waste forest industry wood for energy production in the region, and the City of Nelson is reviving its plan for using waste wood to generate heat within the city.
Five years ago the city developed a proposal for a biofuel plant to be located downtown that would supply heat to specific public buildings.
“Business as usual, using natural gas, is incredibly low cost right now so to compete with that is very hard,” says Nelson Hydro’s Alex Love. “To make it viable we need to defray the capital costs of about $6 million (for the plant and the piping system).”
The city has been trying to get at least half of that in grant funding, Love says, and now this has been achieved.
So Nelson Hydro is examining the business case developed five years ago. If it still looks feasible, Love will ask council this summer to approve the spending.
The business case states that the project would reduce greenhouse gases and turn a profit by selling heat to customers cheaper than at current rates.
In 2016 the city identified several public buildings in Nelson where the plant could be located, and this list will also be updated before the presentation to council.
The biomass boiler would produce heat, not electricity, that would otherwise be produced by natural gas, which, according to Nelson Hydro, has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than waste wood.
In 2016, Fiona Galbraith, a consultant at Nelson Hydro, told the Star the biomass boiler would not be recognizable as an industrial building and would take up an area about the size of the tennis courts at Lakeside Park. She said it would produce minimal emissions because of advanced combustion technology and there would be a maximum of two delivery trucks per day in the coldest part of the year.
Regarding emissions from the plant, Love said the technology is advancing, but that is one of their major project concerns.
“What kind of emissions will there be and how will the public see that? So we have engaged an environmental firm to look at some existing plants to see how they perform in terms of emissions both visible and not visible.”
RDCK looks at regional biomass
Meanwhile the RDCK wants to examine what a district-wide biofuel program fueled by wood waste might look like.
It has put out a call for expressions of interest, looking for a consultant to analyze the possibilities and a workable business model for biomass energy.
“This seems like a possible solution for the Kootenays,” said RDCK board chair Aimee Watson. “Forest companies are burning their slash piles, so what is considered waste from one perspective has got value if you produce power from it.”
She said wildfire mitigation efforts also produce waste wood that could be used for biomass energy.
“And there is a whole other twist to it when we realize how vulnerable the power grid is,” she says, referring to frequent outages in the Lardeau, “and how expensive it is becoming to power our homes and our facilities.
“So here is a fuel we are looking at every day that does not require building massive dams, and is already being pulled from the forest.”
She said the issue has been studied by several forest companies just for their own use, but a regional analysis is needed.
“The regional district does not want to become a utility,” Watson said, “but we want to know about the volume and business potential not only on a regional scale but an independent residential scale.”
She said this study will also examine provincial energy policies that discourage local residents from producing their own power.
The expressions of interest will lead to the RDCK requesting proposals for a feasibility study, which Watson hopes could be completed in a year.
She said moving to bioenergy should not involve cutting more forests than are already being cut.
“I would hope that this would take only what is considered a waste product and using it to power ourselves. It would affect the economy of forestry: you now have a value where you didn’t before.”