Major public infrastructure in the Hazeltons could be heated using waste wood from sawmills under a new biomass energy plan.
Skeena Energy Solutions (SES), which is part of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, is developing a proposal to install a biomass boiler at three Hazelton schools.
SES coordinator Greg Horne said buildings in the Hazeltons were currently heated with either propane or heating oil because there is no access to natural gas, which is cleaner and less expensive.
Inspired by a similar system that heats eight buildings in Telkwa, including the village office, SES commissioned Smithers company Wunderlin Consulting to conduct a feasibility study into whether biomass boilers could be beneficial to the Hazeltons.
The study identified the New Hazelton Elementary School, Hazelton Secondary School and the Gitksan Wet’suwet’en Education Society as the buildings best suited to the biomass system.
Although none of the schools have signed on with the project at this stage, SES hopes consultations over the winter months will lead to commitments.
Fuelled by wood chips cut from lumber waste, which is currently burnt away in piles by the mills, the biomass boilers heat water.
The hot water then warms the respective building as it travels through insulated pipes.
Horne said the Telkwa project had proven the biomass boiler system was cheaper than using natural gas.
He said it would also reduce C02 emissions by replacing dirtier fuels like propane with a waste material.
“These boilers are really clean burning, so compared to a conventional wood stove in a house, a certified RSF wood stove, they are 40-50 times cleaner burning,” he said.
“All of that carbon emission (from burning waste at saw mills) is going into the atmosphere anyway.
“We are essentially saying, ‘Why don’t we just capture all of this stuff that is already being burned and use it?’”
“Right now it is being wasted.”
According to the study, installing a biomass boiler would cost between $200,000 and $500,000 but it would reduce heating costs by 80 to 90 per cent.
“(For example) instead of $100,000 worth of propane it would be between $10,000 to $20,000 worth of wood chips,” he said.
“Those $10,000 to $20,000 would go to the local sawmills and the local people to chip up and deliver those wood chips so that money stays in the local community.”
Under the plan, schools could pay off the installation of the system in five to seven years.
Horne said there was no risk of the wood supply running out because the waste wood from one local sawmill would generate enough power to heat six major buildings.
“As long as the sawmill operates for 20 or 30 years, which would probably be the lifespan of the system, it would work,” he said.
Details about how and where the chips would be cut and who would transport them have not been finalized but Horne said local sawmills had been responsive to the plan, partly because it would reduce the need for them to buy permits to burn the wood.