Fort Smith Starts Pellet Conversion

Fort Smith Starts Pellet Conversion

ft-smith-pellet-conversionTwo of Fort Smith’s largest institutions fired up wood-pellet boilers for the first time this winter, beginning the community’s transition from oil heating systems. Aurora College’s Thebacha Campus and the PWK/Recreation Center building started using new, 750-kilowatt wood-pellet boilers last month.

The conversions are part of the territorial government’s plan to replace heating oil across the territory using a variety of alternative power sources.

“It’s tied into all the work we’re doing on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Michael Miltenberger, MLA for Thebacha. “We’re doing similar work in communities across the land, from waste heat recovery to hydro facilities in small communities like Lutsel K’e, to some geothermal potential in Yellowknife. We have a very broad strategy, fundamentally changing the way we generate power.”

The two biomass boilers will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Fort Smith by over 900 tonnes annually, according to the GNWT’s department of Public Works and Services.

A third wood-pellet boiler is ready for the Fort Smith Health Center, but installation has been delayed to coincide with the facility’s renovations. The Health Center’s boiler should be running by fall 2011.

The payback period on each wood-pellet furnace is between three and five years, depending on the price of oil.

Maurice Evans, regional manager of Public Works in Fort Smith, said the boilers should heat the buildings 90 per cent of the time.

The only unknown comes when temperatures drop below -22C. Evans said that oil boilers may have to be used to supplement the wood heat at those low temperatures, although no one is quite sure how the wood-pellet boilers will react in the heart of winter.

The oil boilers previously used as a main heat source for each building remain in place as backups.

Taylor and Company of Hay River signed a five-year contract to provide pellets for all three systems and initial maintenance on the boilers.

Evans said that Public Works employees will shadow the Taylor and Company maintenance workers this winter to get a feel for how the systems work. Next year, GNWT employees will be expected to do the bulk of maintenance on the facilities.

As the boilers are auger-fed, the pellets are kept in a silo-type container outside of the main building. The auger feeds pellets into the boiler, eliminating the manual filling necessary with home pellet-boiler systems.

Taylor and Company is trucking wood pellets in from Quesnel, BC.