Partnership fuels expansion of UNBC's bioenergy system

By British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education | September 03, 2014

Students, communities and the environment will benefit from the expansion of the University of Northern British Columbia’s award-winning bioenergy heating system, thanks to a $1.1-million contribution from the government of British Columbia.

The funding partnership was announced by Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk at UNBC’s 25th-anniversary kickoff celebration held Sept. 2 in Prince George.

The government investment will allow UNBC to begin the connection of its student residences, Enhanced Forestry Lab, and daycare facility to a new district energy system, effectively cutting down on the use of fossil fuels for heating. Energy will initially come from the existing bioenergy systems on campus.

UNBC’s Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project is designed to model a northern, rural, or off-grid community, effectively serving as a platform for education, research, and demonstration.

The total cost of the capital project is $2.2 million, and the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition and TransCanada Corporation have joined the Province as funding partners. The BC Bioenergy Network has also made a funding commitment and Pacific BioEnergy will be donating the wood pellets that will fuel the system.

Currently, the Prince George campus annually derives nearly three-quarters of its heat from locally sourced biomass: wood pellets and sawmill residue.

The UNBC energy initiative has already attracted local, provincial, national, and international awards. In fact, the Bioenergy Plant is the first building in northern B.C. to be certified as LEED Platinum. The addition of the Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project will allow UNBC to reach its goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption for heating by 85 percent since 2010.

“UNBC is seen as an innovative leader in the clean energy field and as a driver of economic development to create jobs and opportunities for British Columbians. Extending the bioenergy system is great for students, future generations of British Columbians, the community and our province,” said Amrik Virk, minister of Advanced Education.

“UNBC has shown great support for the bioenergy industry for many years. The Enhanced Forestry Lab is heated with wood pellets. The main buildings on campus are heated by the Bioenergy Plant and now the Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project that will expand the campus energy system to serve the student residences and the UNBC day care center. Projects like this will help Canadians better understand the many environmental and economic benefits of using bioenergy systems. Pacific Bioenergy is pleased to show its support for UNBC by contributing the wood pellets required for this innovative project,” added Brad Bennett, vice president of Pacific Bioenergy.

“We are proud to be part of the expansion of UNBC’s district energy system, to build upon an award-winning platform in conjunction with government, academia and industry to prove out the economic and environmental merits of bioenergy in B.C. This investment will build further upon UNBC’s teaching and research capacity. It will transform the campus into a model of integrated sustainable northern community energy,” said Michael Weedon, executive director of the BC Bioenergy Network.

“When the Bioenergy Plant received a national Green Building Award earlier this year, the jurors commented that it’s ‘a fabulous example of what more communities in Canada should be doing.’ We agree, and the announcement of this Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project represents our next step. Thank you to our funding partners for joining with us on a project that will bring benefits to rural communities,” said Daniel Weeks, president of UNBC.