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Turning biomass power on, diesel off
A wood biomass-fired power system in the works in the small village of Kwadacha, B.C. could be a model for other remote communities looking to wean off costly diesel and propane for power production.
By Jim Stirling
Taking readily available wood fibre, fusing it with technology and using the resultant green energy to help wean their isolated community from fossil fuel dependence just makes sense to the people of Kwadacha.
If all goes well, the First Nation community about 590 kilometres north of Prince George, British Columbia, will have within a couple of years a wood biomass-fired combined heat and power system tailored to the requirements of its approximately 320 residents. Along the way, the estimated $6 million Kwadacha project will pioneer a template power solution for other communities off the grid and dependent upon expensive imported diesel and propane for basic power provision.
Using wood to produce power is an important environmental issue for the people of Kwadacha, explained Donny Van Somer, chief of the Kwadacha Band. “As a First Nation, we live on—and from —the land. Using green energy looks after the air and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This project will make our community a little less—or not dependent at all—on fossil fuels,” outlined Van Somer.
According to statistics from 2011, Kwadacha consumed 953,000 litres of diesel for power and electric baseboard heating and 170,000 litres of propane for heating village buildings like the school and store.
Wood fibre availability studies at Kwadacha, including one by FPInnovations, indicate an ample supply of woody biomass to support the combined heat and power requirements of the system proposed for the village.
The mountain pine beetle epidemic has taken its toll on the forests surrounding Kwadacha during its relentless march through B.C. “This project will allow us to clean up the dead stuff around the outskirts of the community,” said Van Somer. “And help control the forest fire risk.” Van Somer anticipates bringing in a logging contractor to Kwadacha to harvest about 30,000 cubic metres of timber and stockpiling it, if the right deal can be brokered. “We have people with falling and bucking experience in the village but no logging equipment.”
A portable log chipper will also be required to reduce the material to a 1.5 to 2.5 inch size and less than 15 per cent moisture content for use in the heat/power system. Van Somer reckons a couple of extra jobs will be created on the log/fuel generation side and a couple more tending a greenhouse so Kwadacha can produce some of its own fresh produce. “We have to order the food in and by the time it reaches Kwadacha, it has a limited shelf life,” noted the chief. It’s also expensive.
The Kwadacha Band and its partners in the heat/power project are working with BC Hydro to develop an energy purchase agreement for surplus power produced by the biomass system. BC Hydro operates the community’s existing diesel generator. “We’re also approaching BC Hydro to help us. This project will save them money. We’ll have a self-sufficient community or close to it, in energy production,” pointed out Van Somer. “I feel if BC Hydro explained that properly to the B.C. Utilities Commission, it will make sense to them.”
The B.C. Bioenergy Network (BCBN) has been working long and hard on the Kwadacha file to move it toward reality. The BCBN has been assisted in its endeavours by other partners including the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council, the B.C. First Nations Forestry Council and the B.C. government. “We think this small scale wood biomass-fueled system makes great sense for remote communities,” explained Michael Weedon, the BCBN’s executive director. Weedon anticipates a three phase introduction of the combined heat and power system proposed for Kwadacha. The first phase would be a wood-fired generator capable of supplying about 10 per cent of Kwadacha’s electrical needs.
“It’s been proven technology in Europe for three years with about 150 installations and a combined one million operating hours,” explained Weedon. The second phase is the testing of a larger load-following system capable of responding to all the village’s power needs. The third and final phase would see the successfully tested system installed in Kwadacha.
Weedon said the system testing process will be for at least 8000 hours of operation at a forest products company in the Prince George area which couldn’t be named at the time of interview. If it passes muster and is installed at Kwadacha, it will be its first commercial application in Canada.
A firm timetable for the Kwadacha project is elusive. For one thing, it requires BC Hydro to commit. “Our goal is to get things going this year (2013),” reported Weedon, “and get some of the basic infrastructure in place. We’ve done the heavy lifting and now it’s time for decisions to be made.”
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