City councillors will decide next week whether or not to go ahead with a district energy plan that’s been on the table since 2010.
Pat Deakin, the city’s economic development manager, held an open meeting at city hall on Monday (Feb. 16) where Stephen Salter, an engineer with Farallon Consultants Limited, presented the plan to council.
The district energy system would divert community wood waste away from open burning into a biomass boiler and be used to heat “key Port Alberni buildings,” including West Coast General Hospital, city facilities in the Roger and Wallace streets corridor and private seniors’ facilities on 10th Avenue.
The hot water would travel along nearly three kilometres of underground pipes that would be maintained by the utility owner, said Salter. Only buildings with central heating could switch to district energy.
The biomass boiler could be located at one of five sites but Salter declined to list the locations.
(Salter noted in a 2012 report to the city that the public works yard on Sixth Avenue is the best location because it is central and there is trucking access directly to Wallace Street.)
The project would benefit the city by improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (the equivalent of removing 1,000 cars from the city each year) and raising modest revenue for the city, Salter said.
At various times in the process the city has discussed using steam from Catalyst Paper to heat the biomass boiler, however, Salter said that some of the grant money could be lost if the city went that route.
“The people at the Green Municipal Fund have indicated, when we had told them we were talking to Catalyst, that they would have reservations about going away from the original plan,” Salter said. Part of the grant money was awarded due to the innovation factor of this being the first system of its kind in North America, something that would be lost.
While Coun. Ron Paulson said that he thought it was important to include Catalyst as a way of helping them diversify, the company itself has been lukewarm about the project since backing out of a memorandum of understanding with the city a few years ago.
There are currently three options on the table for council to consider; a fully municipally owned and operated utility at a cost of approximately $10 million; a private-public partnership; or termination of the district energy initiative.
If the city went for the project alone, it would be at a cost of $10 million, with $1.93 million coming from grants and $7.8 million coming through borrowing, which would require a referendum. This option would see the city receive $100,000 per year in revenues for the first 25 years or until the loan is paid off, at which time the revenues would increase to $500,000.
A private-public partnership would see the city using grant money to pay $1.5 million and the private partner pitching in the rest although this would reduce revenues.
Deakin’s goal, said Salter, was “a project that would cover its own costs, do something good for the environment and would create employment locally.”
Jobs would come from administration, operations and maintenance of the district energy system as well as firms needed to collect and process wood waste so it can go into a biomass boiler.
Salter said that the project was designed to run off of just slightly more than the 3,000 tonnes of wood waste than is currently going to the landfill.
According to Deakin, while he would like the wood waste from local forestry companies’ slash burning, it’s just not financially feasible to ship it to the city at this time.
However, Salter said that in the future, the project could expand to forestry wood waste but that it would have to be the province that would initiate that discussion with forestry companies.
Should council vote to go ahead with the project, Salter said he could see it being operational within two years.