The biomass energy plant in Enderby

Nelson council takes next steps on solar and biomass energy

Customers could buy into community solar panels; burned wood waste would produce heat for downtown buildings.

Two innovative energy proposals — a district biomass heating system and a community solar project — each moved a step forward at Monday night’s Nelson city council meeting.

Solar

For the solar garden project, council agreed to prepare the necessary bylaw amendments, finalize location and costs, and develop the purchasing contracts. This does not constitute a decision to go ahead with the project but would provide more information before making that decision.

The solar garden would be an array of solar panels probably located at Nelson Hydro’s Bonnington site. Customers would not purchase the solar panels but could buy into it and receive credits on their hydro bill. (For more information on this project and a copy of Nelson Hydro’s report on it, go to the online version of this story atnelsonstar.com.)

Biomass

Council also decided on actions to further Nelson Hydro’s proposed district energy system, which would heat a number of large buildings in Nelson including the Civic Centre, the community complex, the curling club, and possibly the hospital with hot water created by burning wood waste from the surrounding area.

This plan has been through various versions and engineering studies by Nelson Hydro over several years. The original plan involved geothermal energy but Nelson Hydro eventually settled on biomass as a more cost effective method.

The full report presented to council is attached below and contains far more detail than this article.

Consultant Fiona Galbraith told council Monday the project at full capacity would use only 15 per cent of the available wood waste in the area. She said the biomass boiler wouldn’t 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 and there would be a maximum of two delivery trucks per day in the coldest part of the year.

She said the project would produce heat, not electricity — heat that would otherwise be produced by natural gas, which has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than biomass.

Galbraith said currently wood waste is either burned on site or taken to landfills. In terms of greenhouse gas production, she said burning is bad and the landfill is worse because landfills emit the greenhouse gas methane. In either case, she said, the biomass boiler would reduce the carbon footprint of the wood waste.

She said the system could save 1,200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year and considerably more if the hospital was involved, and could lead to Nelson being one of the first communities in BC to be carbon neutral in its operations. She cited a similar project in Enderby as a reference point.

Capital costs for the project would range from $4.5 million to $5 million, depending on which buildings were connected to the system. The rate model would come with an incentive, with energy priced at 10 per cent below the equivalent natural gas rate.

Councillor Janice Morrison expressed concerns about costs and the city over-extending itself.

“We just voted to look at the solar project and we have some micro hydro we are looking at. Let’s finish one before we start another. I would like to see this delayed to next fiscal year. There is a lot on everyone’s plate now.”

City manager Kevin Cormack, recommending further action on this plan, said the key component would be getting grants and that would be more likely if there is a business plan, and to create such a plan the city needs to find potential customers, a wood supply and financing authorization.

“If there is a red flag at any of those places we would not need to [go any further]. We would take a conservative approach.”

Council voted to do the following:

• Begin public engagement;

• Secure financing authorization through Municipal Finance Authority for up to $4,000,000;

• Enter into a memorandum of understanding with potential customers;

• Start preliminary design;

• Secure one or more central plant site locations by entering into a memorandum of understanding with relevant property owners;

• Enter into a memorandum of understanding with one or more regional wood waste suppliers;

• Secure grant funding.

Morrison and councillor Bob Adams voted against the motion.

District Biomass Energy System

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