Dysart wood heating project gets $2.8M
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | April 26, 2018
A renewable energy project, that will heat up to 45 buildings in downtown Haliburton with wood chips, has received a $2.8 million grant from the province’s Municipal GHG Challenge Fund.
The sizeable investment was announced during a Dysart council meeting on April 23. If all goes according to plan, it’s estimated property owners will save 20-30 per cent on their current heating bills, according to Jamie Stephen, managing director of TorchLight Bioresources.
“The building owners that connect to the system would be able to drastically reduce, or eliminate, their consumption of heating oil, propane or electricity use for space heating,” said Stephen. “The goal is also to significantly reduce heating costs for building owners and tenants.”
The grant will subsidize about half of the $5.8 million in capital costs. They’ve also sought $1.9 million in federal funding for the wood production facility and additional capital. The rest will be raised through private sector financing. If the money isn’t raised, Mayor Murray Fearrey told The Highlander that TorchLight Bioresources and Haliburton Forest will be on the hook for it. Taxpayers won’t be subsidizing the system, he said.
The project was first pitched to Fearrey and CAO Tamara Wilbee in the fall of 2017. It was then presented to council, which gave Stephen’s consulting company the go-ahead to gauge the downtown core’s interest in a wood-fuelled district energy system. Back then, Stephen said most business owners expressed an interest in the project.
The system will provide heat to buildings with hot water sent through pipes three-and-a-half feet underground. Wood chips from Haliburton Forest will be used as fuel and processed at a central energy centre. The approximately 3,000-square-foot linear building will be located on a stretch of land between the library’s parking lot on Maple Avenue and the York Street lot. The municipality received the money and has partnered with Stephen’s company, the Haliburton Forest and Biothermic, a provider of biomass boilers. On Tuesday, council signed a unanimous shareholders’ agreement to establish a bioenergy corporation and purchase shares in the corporation. The municipality will own half the company while the other half will belong to a holding company, primarily comprised of TorchLight Bioresources and Haliburton Forest.
Buildings will need to be retrofitted Buildings will need to be retrofitted for the service. In an interview, Stephen said that in most cases, grant money has been allocated for that. However, buildings that use baseboard heating would be handled on a “case-by-case basis.”
“Those retrofit costs are significantly higher than forced air or a boiler type of system,” he said. The corporation, comprised of three directors from the municipality, will determine the rate of the service.
“The price that is charged to building owners is a relationship between the utility corporation and building owners,” said Stephen. “That’s something, as directors of the corporation, we’ll have to establish and find the fair rate.”
Since the corporation is for-profit, they plan to be in the black, he said. The more customers who sign up, the lower the energy rate will be. At this point, it’s unknown how many will connect. Malcolm Cockwell, managing director of Haliburton Forest, told The Highlander the project could be in jeopardy if there isn’t enough participation.
“It could affect the viability of the project, for sure,” said Cockwell. “If 75 per cent of the potential building owners said ‘no thank you,’ that’s definitely a problem.”
But Stephen believes it will be an easy sell with the savings.
“If you’re utilizing a local fuel, are connected to the system, you’re totally insulated from the volatility of fossil fuel pricing and the changes in electricity pricing. You’re also insulated from any changes in climate policy at the federal or provincial level,” he explained in an interview. Customers will be able to lock in their heating rate once it’s set. They will be billed monthly and a meter will measure the flow rate of the water. About four or five full-time jobs will be created, said Stephen. These will focus on the production of wood chips, also known as energy chips, at Haliburton Forest.
Construction scheduled for next summer Stephen will meet with all of the building owners to discuss the system, collect data about their energy consumption and address their concerns.
Then they will come up with the final system design. Construction of the centre and installation of pipes is scheduled for next summer. Instead of being under the centre of a road, the pipes will go through parking lots and “non-major routes whenever possible.”
“We’ve tried to use an approach to minimize any disruptions in traffic,” he said. The goal is to launch the service in the fall of 2019. “This year will be all about planning, permits, working with building owners and finalizing all the plans,” he said. They intend to have a public meeting in the future. Fearrey admitted the municipality is “taking a bit of a leap of faith.”
“I give you complete credit for doing so,” said Stephen, adding there are 4,000 district energy systems in Europe. “There are very few in Canada—and certainly none at this scale, that are connecting this [amount of] buildings.”
Money for the province’s fund comes from the carbon market. It’s part of the Climate Change Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (With files from Alex Coop)
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.