Construction of a plant that would turn wood waste from local sawmills into electricity and heat could begin by next spring in Prince George.
The City of Prince George and Vancouver-based Greenbelt Renewable Energy Inc. agreed last week to jointly fund a study into the feasibility of building a cogeneration plant and accompanying community heating system.
“The Greenbelt plant would produce steam that would be used to generate electricity,” said Gerry Offet, president of the Prince George Development Corporation. “The hot water byproduct of that process would then be used for heating, to replace natural gas heat in the city’s downtown.”
This new study is a spin-off of a community energy study done by the engineering company Kattner/FVB and delivered to city council in January. That study was based solely around using waste wood to create hot water heat for the downtown and other civic facilities. That study predicted the city could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 3,978 tonnes annually by switching the downtown to a hot water heating system, as well as cut energy costs by between 25 and 30 per cent. The newly-proposed system would keep those benefits, while also generating electricity to sell at a profit.
“From an environmental point of view you’re taking a waste product currently being burned already and turning it into energy,” said Offet. “If we’re burning it anyway we may as well put it to good use.”
The community heating system could also include running hot water pipes underneath some downtown streets that would keep them warm and free of snow in the winter.
Which local mill’s waste would be used in the plant hasn’t been determined yet. Offet said Greenbelt is currently negotiating with several local lumber producers.
The Kattner study pegged the cost of the heating and snow melting system alone at about $12 million, but the Greenbelt cogeneration facility would likely cost upwards of $30 million. Offet said electricity generated by the cogen plant would be sold to B.C. Hydro.
The plant itself would create around 30 to 50 jobs in the city, said Offet, as well as spur investment in the downtown.
The joint study is slated for completion by the end of November, with construction possible as early as next year.
“Everybody involved in the project hopes by the spring of 2003 construction of the cogen plant could start,” he said. “That phase would likely take longer than the installing of the heating system itself.”
Similar systems exist in only two other Canadian cities Guelph and Sudbury, Ontario. A cogeneration plant and community heating system in PG would be the first of its kind in Western Canada.
The cogeneration technology used by Greenbelt is based on technology first pioneered in Finland 50 years ago and still used extensively in that country.
The agreement to fund the study doesn’t mean the City and Greenbelt are committed to construction of the plant. Offet said the study will take into account the potential environmental, economical and social impact of the cogen plant and community heating system, with a possible private-public partnership between Greenbelt and the City.
“If it proves viable, the project will support the creation of a state-of-the-art cogeneration plant, and provide a low-cost heating option to the downtown business community,” said Mayor Colin Kinsley. “Our partnership with Greenbelt could provide a significant competitive advantage for the community.”