Group makes biomass pitch to Nakusp council

Box Lake Lumber is doing well right now, but an excess of wood waste is hurting business. - File photo
Box Lake Lumber is doing well right now, but an excess of wood waste is hurting business.
— image credit: File photo

A wood waste energy system in Nakusp appears to be inching closer to reality, although it is still a long ways off.

Tom Zeleznik, wearing his citizen’s hat, and not his councillor’s one, made a presentation to council on Jan. 27 about the potential benefits of creating a biomass energy system in Nakusp.

The matter has been heard by council before, and this time the issue was discussed for a good 30 minutes.

The development of a biomass energy plant has become more urgent as the wood waste builds up at Box Lake Lumber and Pacific Inland Pole. The local mills have so much waste that they’re paying to have it shipped away.

As well, biomass is being seen as a cheaper form of heating than electricity, particularly with BC Hydro rates expected to climb by 25 per cent in the coming years and no natural gas available in Nakusp.

A biomass energy system could be used to provide heating to large buildings in town, like the schools, village office, hospital and big businesses.

“It’s a saving to the village, business, schools and hospital,” Zeleznik told council. “With an over abundance of wood waste, it provides a practical way for wood byproducts to be used.”

Last month, Zeleznik and Dan Wiebe, the manager of Box Lake Lumber, visited biomass plants in Revelstoke and Enderby.

In Revelstoke, they toured the district energy system that is run by the municipally-owned Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation. The system takes wood waste from the local mill and uses it to heat a number of buildings in town.

In Enderby, they got a look at the Fink Machine, a biomass converter developed by Burkhard Fink. The system there services eight businesses with a total of 415 kilowatts of energy, with 185 kilowatts worth of future clients waiting to be hooked up.

Even with natural gas available in Enderby, they are able to be competitive, said Zeleznik. In Nakusp, which uses electricity for heating, the savings would be even greater.

“An initial large capital outlay will provide a long term steady source of revenue, and generate revenue on the savings to the Village of Nakusp,” he said. Grant funding could be obtained to help pay for the system.

Beyond the energy savings, a biomass system would be exempt from the carbon tax, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stop energy dollars from leaving Nakusp, all while providing a way for local mills to dispose of their wood waste, Zelenzik added.

That last issue is a pressing one for local mills because of the wood waste buildup. They are paying to have it trucked away and the huge piles could cost them business.

“This is a fantastic idea. I know it’s going to take time but our wood supply isn’t going away any time soon and I’d hate to lose business because of it,” said Ken Wanstall of Pacific Inland Pole. “We’re getting close to that stage where if I don’t do something pretty soon, then that could happen. We don’t want to turn any business away.”

Wiebe said government officials are pressing Box Lake Lumber to do something about its wood waste.

He said Nakusp was an excellent location for a biomass system because there’s no natural gas here, the land is relatively flat and most major buildings are close together, which would reduce the cost of building the heating pipes.

“The line is what’s the expensive part,” he said. “I see lots of potential for it to work in Nakusp from all three of those perspectives.”

A biomass energy system wouldn’t be able to handle all of their wood waste, but it would help.

“Every bit you can get rid of is one bit you don’t have to pay someone to take,” said Wiebe. “I think it has the potential to generate revenue.”

He identified four potential locations for the power plant: the Greendoor building that used house the Nakusp Youth Society, village property near the park, a location near the forestry building, and the old Columbia Machinery site.

“If you could get it closer to downtown it leaves more potential for phase two to service the hospital and other buildings,” he said.

Right now the idea is in the pre-feasibility stage. The group is working with David Dubois of Community Future’s to develop a business plan before they move on to the next stage. One essential factor is to make sure all the major institutions are on board.

“I don’t see people being opposed to it,” said Zeleznik. “If it isn’t going to cost you anything and you know it’s a better system environmentally, I could see a lot of businesses being on board.”


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