Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital warms up to biomass proposal

Haida Gwaii’s northern hospital is warming up to a greener heating system.

Graham Island Clean Heat, a private, Haida-owned company, is proposing to build and run a wood-fired biomass boiler that would provide both space heating and hot water to the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre.

The hospital currently uses an electric system, and while it is relatively efficient, switching to biomass means the building would use significantly less diesel-generated electricity.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Ken Van Aalst, director of facilities maintenance, energy and environmental sustainability for Northern Health.

“We’re hoping to use this as a bit of a test case, and potentially, to use as a model for other facilities.”

While Northern Health tracks the carbon footprint of all its facilities, in this case the emissions actually fall on BC Hydro’s tab, and BC Hydro is offering a financial incentive for the hospital to make the switch.

“They want to get off that diesel power, too,” Aalst said.

On Oct. 16, Northern Health’s board of directors voted in favour of negotiating a sole-source contract with Graham Island Clean Heat, which will include an exact location of the stand-alone boiler facility.

If Northern Health later decides to install similar heating systems in other diesel-reliant communities, that project would likely go to a public bid.

John Disney works for the company. As the former economic development officer for Old Massett, Disney oversaw the installation of a biomass boiler that now heats the Old Massett village hall, health centre, social services office, and Chief Matthews Elementary School.

Similar but much larger than another biomass boiler heating public buildings in Port Clements, it is expected to reduce Old Massett’s carbon footprint by 250 tonnes of CO2 a year and save $130,000 in heating bills.

So long as they use local wood waste, Disney said the clean-burning boilers should be nearly carbon neutral.

“It’s about the same emissions as if you left the wood in the bush to rot,” he said.

But sourcing local wood for the boilers has been a problem.

Disney said the original plan in Old Massett was to use briquettes pressed from sawdust at the joint Abfam/Old Massett sawmill in Port Clements, but it has done little milling lately. Old Massett also applied to the province for a permit to collect waste wood out on the land, but has not received one yet.

“There is so much politics around fibre on Haida Gwaii,” Disney said. “It’s blocking a lot of economy on this island.”

For now, the boilers in Old Massett and Port Clements are using wood pellets shipped from off-island.

Disney said that for now, the proposed plan for the hospital system would do the same. It’s less efficient, he said, but will still displace the carbon emissions associated with diesel-generated electricity.

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