Bioheat system sparks council's interest
The village of Haliburton may not be the only community in the county getting a wood-fuelled district heat system for its downtown.
Jamie Stephen of Torchlight Bioresources visited Minden Hills councillors during their May 10 committee-of-the-whole meeting and council has expressed interest in a wood heat energy system for downtown Minden.
Stephen was recently successful in getting a $2.8-million provincial grant for the Municipality of Dysart et al toward the creation of a system in Haliburton village, funding he is hoping to top up through a federal funding opportunity. In a public-private partnership, the system would be operated by a utility corporation, with 50 per cent of the revenues going to the municipality.
“The funding that we secured for them from the province is essentially their equity in the project,” Stephen told councillors. Since the startup costs for such systems, even relatively small ones, run in the millions of dollars, “a grant component is absolutely required,” he said.
Stephen is proposing a similar system for Minden’s downtown.
The systems involve a central energy centre, where wood chips would be burned in specialized equipment, heating water in a boiler, that water then distributed throughout a series of underground pipes providing heat and water heating to buildings. While the technology is only emerging in Canada, it is widespread in Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian countries.
Stephen’s model includes a partnership with the Haliburton Forest, which will supply the wood chips, and Biothermic, a Haliburton-based biomass heating company, which will supply the equipment.
Stephen went over the benefits of such systems, including lower bills for building owners and local job creation.
“There’s no requirement for the building owners to be connected,” Stephen said, and building owners would still retain their traditional heating systems.
Another benefit of a local heat system is a lack of fluctuation in pricing.
“You can actually lock in the price of heat for years, which is something you cannot do with modern fuel,” Stephen said.
A preliminary graphic showed about 25 buildings in Minden’s downtown connected to a heat centre, which Stephen had hypothetically located on municipally owned land along Prince Street.
Stephen explained that he is working on getting a cluster of projects operating – 11 systems in the area, three of which would be for private resorts, and the remainder with municipal partners.
From council, Stephen was seeking support in principle so he could proceed with an expression of interest for the cluster project to the Low Carbon Economy Fund, which was due May 14. Highlands East council has also expressed interest in the project.
Stephen will also submit an application to the Municipal Greenhouse Gas Challenge Fund – the provincial program that awarded $2.8 million to Dysart – by the July 13 deadline and return to council with more details.
“The short answer, is yes,” said Mayor Brent Devolin on council’s interest in the project.
Stephen’s graphic showed buildings on the south side of the Gull River connected to the system.
“We have two sides to the river, and we never want to forget about the other side of the river,” Devolin said.
Across the bridge are a number of businesses, as well as facilities such as the Minden Hills Cultural Centre, Archie Stouffer Elementary School and the Minden Haliburton Highlands Health Services site.
“In a perfect world, both sides of the river would be serviced with this,” Devolin said.
While Stephen said it was possible to run piping along bridges to traverse rivers, “probably, we would have two separate facilities,” he said. He added that a system on the other side of the river would also likely entail working with the province, since two of the biggest users – the school and the hospital – would be provincial buildings.
The expression of interest represents no binding decision for council, and Devolin noted that council was also not committing to the hypothetical location of Prince Street for the energy centre.