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Courtenay council nibbles on 'food for thought' from green energy advocate

The City of Courtenay could supply green energy that pays for itself, teaches students and attracts energy-efficient developers.

Farallon Consultants Limited's Stephen Salter presented Courtenay council with what Coun. Jon Ambler called "food for thought" earlier this week when he suggested the City look into building a district energy system that would be "in the black" on the City's books.

"My work is to find opportunities, not just for green energy, but for green energy systems that pay for themselves," Salter told council, adding he sees potential in the area at Ryan and Lerwick roads.

"It involves the economics of having one energy plant sell energy as hot water through pipes to various buildings, the idea being that it's cheaper to build one large plant than to have each building own its own plant."

Salter noted the energy loads of the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre, North Island Collge (NIC) and Queneesh Elementary School, combined with their close proximity, caught his eye. Then, when the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) announced the chosen location for the new Comox Valley Hospital he became "very interested."

The system could consist of one large boiler which uses urban wood waste to create energy for all four buildings via pipes underground. It would have the potential for expansion to other buildings in the future, and would likely attract green-minded developers, according to Salter.

He suggested each building would have lower energy bills than with traditional models, and the space usually devoted as a boiler room could be used for something else instead, such as office space, or in the hospital's case, more space for healthcare.

He's spoken to NIC about the idea, and told council the college was interested in teaching trades related to sustainable energy.

The college was "open to the idea of actually hosting the energy centre on their property and providing the energy through the district energy system," said Salter. "They could potentially own the building that houses the boilers and use it to teach trades how to run boilers."

He also said VIHA is keenly interested in the system, but VIHA stressed if the City chooses to go ahead, it would need to act quickly.

"By January they (VIHA) would need an indication of whether or not this district energy system is likely to be built," he said, adding the project is in the Request for Qualifications stage and is expected to move into the Request for Proposals stage later this year, so by the New Year interested companies will likely be working on more detailed design plans.

"There's a great opportunity but the timing is tight," said Salter.

Salter added the plant would cost roughly $5 million to build, would create two full-time jobs, and would result in a reduction of 2,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses per year, or would be the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road.

He noted Courtenay could apply for federal funding for the project and funding for similar projects has typically been forthcoming. The amount of non-tax revenue generated for the City — after all costs including debt repayment — would be between $100,000 and $300,000 per year depending on the availability of grants and how much the City would spend on the wood waste, if it had to buy it.

However, he added the City has enough municipal wood waste going to the landfill each year to fuel the system.

Salter said there are about 500 district energy systems in Canada already, with many more in Europe, and the systems have typically expanded over time. He noted a six- or seven-year-old system in Revelstoke BC has paid its way and is currently being expanded.

Mayor Larry Jangula pointed out two commercial developments are in the works across Lerwick Road; one in the Home Depot parking lot and one slightly north on Lerwick Road. He said he is very much in favour of looking at waste-to-energy ideas.

Salter suggested a feasibility study should be done by November if the City is interested.

City staff are expected to present council with a report on the matter at Monday's meeting.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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