Councillor demands details for bioheat pitch
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | May 10, 2018
One Highlands East councillor wasn’t too impressed after hearing a pitch from the proponents of a bioheat project in Haliburton.
“We have less than two weeks and you have not shown us a single number in your presentation,” Coun. Joan Barton told Jamie Stephen of TorchLight Bioresources during a May 2 meeting. “Come on, guys. You are the people who are trying to sell us your goods.”
In April, Stephen’s company, along with the Haliburton Forest and Dysart et al, received a $2.8 million grant from the province’s Municipal GHG Challenge Fund to heat up to 45 buildings in downtown Haliburton with wood chips. They’re also waiting to hear about an application for $1.9 million in federal funding. They’ve committed to raising capital through private investments. That project is pegged at $5.8 million. Stephen and Mike Rutter of Biothermic, a provider of wood boilers, asked Highlands East council if they’d be interested in having these renewable energy projects in the municipality. They presented one bioheat project for nine buildings in Wilberforce, including the arena, community centre and a few businesses.
Similar to Haliburton, it would include an energy centre—where wood chips from Haliburton Forest are processed—and pipes to the buildings running about four feet underground. The other project would connect 238 homes and three community buildings to bioheat in Cardiff.
“This is definitely a very early proposal though,” Stephen told The Highlander, referring to the Cardiff project. The Wilberforce project is expected to cost $600- 700,000. They would “try” to get half covered by provincial grants, said Stephen. The remainder would come from private investors, including TorchLight and Haliburton Forest. The Cardiff project will be significantly more expensive, though Stephen didn’t attach a price tag at the meeting. He later confirmed it would be more than $5 million. They would apply for one-third funding from the province.
It would also require contributions from investors.
“Typically, you don’t connect singlefamily homes to district energy systems because they’re too far apart and the heat demands are too small,” he explained. “But in Cardiff, the proximity of the homes is quite tight and they’re quite similar in terms of scale.”
Stephen admitted the upfront capital costs are high, but the projects are being pursued because he’s confident the savings will be at least 20 per cent in comparison to oil, propane and electricity. Homeowners will have the option of connecting to the system. It won’t be viable if they don’t get enough participation.
The municipality would be able to generate revenue with the system, he said. Stephen explained he was simply seeking an expression of interest. Should council not wish to go further, they can make that decision. Council, including Barton, voted in favour of Stephen’s request. She decided not to “block” the possibility of moving ahead.
“Allowing them to add us to a list of people who might be interested does not bind this council in any way and will mean that we should be provided with more information about the idea—which my co-councillors clearly want to see,” said Barton. “There was no point in turning it into a situation where I was voting against receiving information.”
TorchLight is currently working on 10 projects in Haliburton County and Muskoka, including seven municipal projects and three resort properties. Stephen was unable to provide further details because he didn’t have permission from the parties involved.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.