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Communities show interest in district energy systems
Greenhouse gas strategy meetings ramp up efforts for new four-year plan on reducing emissions

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 5, 2011

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

The territorial government is visiting communities across the NWT asking residents, government officials and leaders what they want to see in the new incarnation of the Greenhouse Gas Strategy.

NNSL photo/graphic

With the territorial government seeking input for the 2011-2015 Greenhouse Gas Strategy, officials with the department of environment and natural resources are hearing continued interest from communities wanting to set up district energy systems to reduce costs and emissions. Set to replace the current strategy, which expires this year, Jim Sparling, manager of climate change programs for the government, said hopes are with the government going to wood pellet systems, it will help establish a pellet distributor in each community or region, allowing for more people to tap into the eco-friendly heating systems. - NNSL file photo

Set to replace the 2007-2011 strategy at the end of this year, the government is holding community meetings to gain knowledge of what stakeholders want to see included in the strategy, which focuses on reducing emissions in government, residential, business and industrial sectors across the territory.

Jim Sparling, manager of climate change programs for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said meetings held over the last three weeks in the Beaufort Delta and South Slave haven't attracted many people, but those who have attended have a vested interest in helping develop a more comprehensive strategy.

"Because we've got a number of actions under way, like the energy efficiency stuff and developing renewable energies in the communities, there is some strong interest in continue with that kind of activity," Sparling said. "It deflects the cost of living, the high cost of diesel and the greenhouse gases leading to climate change."

The initiatives in the current strategy to help communities implement energy efficiency programs whether it be through financial assistance, community woodlot or energy planning are what residents and community leaders seem to be most interested in, Sparling said.

"The interest is very much in the community projects, how we can work better with the communities to bring out our energy efficiency programs to help them upgrade their homes and buildings to make them more efficient and to develop the local renewable resources that they have available," he said.

Communities such as Fort McPherson and Behchoko are both interested in district energy systems using biomass, Sparling said. He added, the territorial government is working with them to help attach community buildings to such a system which would reduce overall annual costs for the communities.

"We've been working with them to harvest local biomass to be able to provide more into that system and possibly pick up more buildings," he said of the Aadrii District Heating System in Fort McPherson which was installed in 1997 and uses residual heat from the power plant to heat a number of buildings in the community, including Chief Julius School. Sparling added one of the hurdles the government needs to address is logistical issues of transporting biomass materials to communities not easily accessible.

The current strategy includes implementing wood pellet systems in a number of government facilities to reduce emissions by the end of this year by 10 per cent something Sparling said the government is on pace to achieve. By bringing wood pellet systems to government buildings in communities, it builds an initial foundation for wood pellet access.

"Fort McPherson could be trucking them up from northern B.C., but no one has the facilities to handle them," he said. "When they installed the first system at the Correctional Centre ... that kind of kicked off a bit of an industry to supply them bring up the large truckloads and break them down."

Sparling said it becomes easier for others to tap into a cost-saving method of energy generation once a local distributor is in place, similar to a company in Hay River which is supplying wood pellets for a pellet system heating the community's four schools,.

"That's the first barrier, who is going to bring in the pellets?" he said. "Who is going to start that business? No one is going to want to do that if there is no customer. So the government can act as that initial anchor customer to get things started in communities."

One community with such interest in a district energy system is Behchoko. Sparling said the community is interested in a wood pellet system to provide a heating source for a number of buildings, adding while the government is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, they are hearing from residents and leaders that community reduction and established reduction targets need to be part of the new strategy.

"Some of the things we're looking at are what kind of targets should we be taking on," he said. "The target was to reduce GNWT direct emissions and that target we met through energy efficiencies and converting to wood pellet. We're on track to meet that target.

"That's great, but it's just the GNWT, it's a small part of it. We are asking people how we should frame up targets for the next four years."

Under the present strategy, the GNWT targeted a 10 per cent reduction - under 2001 levels - in its own greenhouse gas emissions by 2011. When the strategy was released in 2007, government emissions accounted for three per cent of territorial CO2 production.

Sparling said once consultations are done, they will be presenting their findings to Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger.

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