Woodfuelled energy system proposed for Highlands East

By Sue Tiffin
Published May 8 2018

Highlands East council has shown interest in a wood-fuelled energy system in Wilberforce and Cardiff similar to a project already approved in Dysart.

Jamie Stephen of Torchlight Bioresources Inc. and Mike Rutter of Biothermic Renewable Energy Systems presented the potential projects to council at a meeting on May 2. A show of interest from council was needed in order to qualify for a federal grant application due May 14 for funding that Stephen said was necessary to make the projects economically viable.

“It’s just an expression of interest due  on that date” he said. “It’s non-committal non-binding. Nothing like that.”

The concept would 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 in the downtown area of Wilberforce and the residential community of Cardiff. Wood chips used in the system would be purchased from Haliburton Forest.

In the presentation Stephen said the method of heating was popular throughout Europe and that it also helps to heat downtown areas such as Toronto Montreal and Vancouver universities including University of British Columbia York University and Queen’s University and hospitals and schools in Prince Edward Island which he called “a hub for biomass heating.” In Stockholm a district energy system helps heat 200000 homes and also produces electricity. In Copenhagen about 98 per cent of buildings are connected to a central district energy system.

“The idea of creating your own energy in your own building is foreign to them” said Stephen. “Just as it’s unusual for us to think about a district energy system in a town or a village.”

Benefits of the system he said include reduced heating costs renewable local fuel lessened greenhouse gas emissions local job creation and potential revenue for municipalities.

“The main point of these projects is to reduce heating costs” said Stephen. “There’s a lot of other benefits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but we’re also aware that no one is going to switch over if it’s going to cost them more money simply for the environment. It’s really to drive down heating costs for the residents and businesses and municipalities.”

It is much more automated than other wood heating systems so users only need to clear ash away every few months and can be controlled with a thermostat or cellphone.

“If you compare it to what we traditionally think of wood heating one wood stove creates the same particulate matter emissions as 150 boilers and one wood fireplace produces the same particulate matter emissions as 1500 modern wood boilers” said Stephen. “So this is how much more advanced the technology is and this is largely Austrian technology that’s been developed over decades. If you think about the progress of your telephone for example that’s the type of progress that we can see in terms of how we control the combustion of the fuel.”

The Wilberforce project which would involve an energy centre built in what is currently considered “dead space” and would help heat multiple buildings that might include the Lloyd Watson Centre and Keith Tallman Memorial Arena was estimated to cost about $600000. It’s a smaller project than the renewable energy project in Dysart scheduled to be finalized next year that will heat up to 45 buildings in downtown Haliburton with wood chips. Stephen said that much of the project could be covered by grants privately financed or covered by revenues from heat sales. The Cardiff project would be significantly larger than the Dysart plan estimated to cost $6 million but would require extensive legwork and grant funding to ensure it was viable. The town site of Cardiff offers a unique opportunity for the system because of the proximity of homes to each other.

“I want to emphasize here that we’re not asking for any money whatsoever from the municipality” he said. “I’m fully aware that smaller municipalities don’t like to take on debt in Ontario. It’s really we’re talking about a partnership here but there’s no cost to you whatsoever and we do all the work.”
Stephen said there was interest in building upon the Haliburton Village project and hoped to establish a cluster of projects in locations that include Minden townships in Muskoka and private sector projects such as resorts and developments. A full proposal would be ready for end-of-summer or September and council was informed they were able to opt-out at that time.

with files from Chad Ingram