How wood heat could ease bills, help the environment

New Glasgow council looks at how wood heat could ease bills, help the environment

District heating feasibility study to be complete in 2023

Michael Gorman
CBC News
Dec 01, 2022

New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks says introducing a district heating system in the town could reduce the community’s carbon footprint while lowering heating bills. (CBC)

Officials in the Town of New Glasgow are looking at how the use of wood could lead to a reduced carbon footprint and lower heating bills.

Mayor Nancy Dicks said council launched a feasibility study to consider if district heating could be used at town-owned buildings, private homes or other sites in the community, including the Aberdeen Hospital.

“The cost of everything is increasing and if there’s anything that can be done that reduces energy poverty in our community, then that’s a good thing,” she said in an interview on a crisp Wednesday morning outside town hall.

“Of course, it has to be sustainable, financially feasible and — importantly — it has to be an opportunity for clean energy.”

District heating is a system that uses the byproducts from forestry operations and low-grade wood as a fuel source to generate heat. The expansion of the practice is a recommendation included in a review of forestry practices in Nova Scotia from 2018, known as the Lahey Report.

Six public buildings, including schools and a courthouse, were converted to district heating systems as part of a pilot project announced by the provincial government in 2019 and another 100 buildings were identified for possible conversion.

Since then, however, the province has not connected any additional buildings.

Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said the pilot project is showing positive results, but he acknowledged it’s been slow going to connect more buildings to wood-generated heating systems.

“Government doesn’t necessarily move as fast as I’d like to see it,” Rushton said in an interview.

The minister said work continues by officials in his department and the Public Works Department to determine what buildings to convert next. One delay has been ensuring conversions coincide with other work scheduled for the buildings, said Rushton.

Along with removing the need to use heating oil in a time of skyrocketing prices and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Rushton said expanding the use of district heating systems would create a much-needed market for forestry operations looking to dispose of byproducts such as bark, wood shavings, chips and thinnings.

Tory Rushton is Nova Scotia’s minister of natural resources and renewables. (Robert Short/CBC)

It could also create an additional revenue stream for private landowners, he said.

“When you look at private landowners right now that aren’t getting the full value of their ecologically harvested lands and some of it is not seeing a market, this is an available market to be investigated for them and they’ll reap the benefits.”

Stephen Moore, the executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, said the people he represents are bullish on the expansion of district heating.

“It’s shown to be far more economical and affordable, but it’s also more environmentally responsible than many of the alternatives that are currently being used to heat homes in the province,” he said.

District heating is a less controversial use for forestry by-products and low-grade wood than burning them to generate electricity. Environmentalists in Nova Scotia have long called on the provincial government to stop that practice, and dispute the government’s inclusion of using biomass to generate electricity as part of the province’s renewable energy strategy.

Back in New Glasgow, Mayor Dicks said in-person public consultation sessions about how district heating could be used in the town will begin early next year. She expects the feasibility study to be complete later in 2023.

Once all the information is compiled, Dicks said the town would make a decision about how to proceed and what funding support would be required.