The value of Telkwa’s once touted innovative biomass heating system is now being called into question after a few problems have been sparked.
The boiler that is used to heat the Village office, Telkwa Elementary School, the Telkwa Pub and a couple of nearby houses is normally already fired up at this point in the fall season, but is not.
Last spring, the Village had a factory-authorized maintenance person review the equipment and it was discovered that a number of items needed to be replaced. The feeder augers had experienced some excessive wear. Director of operations Gordan Davies told council at their last meeting that this could be from debris in the chips, such as rocks. The required parts were ordered in April but did not arrive until the beginning of September and the parts were installed shortly after.
However, when the system was loaded with wood chips on Sept. 14 and the burner was started, smoke filled the boiler room. The smoke alarms went off in the boiler room and the nearby rental suites. Davies told council that smoke could be smelt in the Village offices as well.
In a report to council, Davies wrote that the incident was caused by a section of single walled chimney pipe that had been corroded through. This corrosion allowed smoke to seep out of the chimney. An employee was present and was able to empty the firebox of combustibles and minimize the amount of smoke damage. A local contractor is sourcing out a new piece of chimney. Davies hopes to have the heating system back up and running sometime during this week.
The heating system was installed in 2013. However, the room it sits in was never properly fire separated from the remainder of the building and does not comply with current building codes. The Village only received one bid from a contractor to complete the work. The total cost to bring the room up to code and keep insurance coverage is almost $25,000 — money that isn’t in this year’s budget. A bit more work was recently discovered that needs to be included so council decided to re-tender the project.
Telkwa’s wood yard is currently empty and the Village needs to source new dry timber. A tender was issued for the supply, delivery and unloading of the wood but no tenders were received. Staff is still sourcing out wood and looking at their options, which include having to chip slabs or purchase from Dekker Lake with a higher price tag because of transportation costs. At last Tuesday night’s meeting, Coun. Brad Layton suggested staff ask where the Village of Granisle gets their wood supply because it also uses a similar heating system.
The Village of Telkwa bought the old meat co-op building where its staff is currently located back in 2011, and started renovations. A grant from the federal government in 2013 helped update it and install the biomass heating system. The council at the time thought buying a big building and renting out some space would be beneficial to the community. However, some of the building remains vacant.
Mayor Darcy Repen questioned if the Village is the appropriate agency to manage the building as a whole, including the heating system, because of the cost impacts.
“But I’m glad to see the investment has been made in the building. It is a good building and I think the district heating system is good under the right capacity, it can be a good part of the building,” he said. “The problem is that the building is under utilized. For me, when we start seeing cost impacts in terms of maintenance, repairs, upkeep and building code issue, it really begs the question, what is the benefit to the community with our tax base supporting a building like this?”
Repen knows not all of council agrees with him but thinks a project like this would have been better left in the private sector.
Council did agree at their last meeting on the idea of putting together a community committee to look at the building as a whole and decide on next steps.