Preventing a wildfire could also create new, clean energy for rural B.C. communities.
A provincial collaboration among a couple of non-profit groups and B.C. research universities has come up with a new online tool that could help rural communities figure out whether wildfire prevention work debris can be used as a clean fuel source.
The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions has come up with a Fire Interface Rural Screening Tool for Heating (FIRST Heat) that could help reduce heating costs for residents of small rural communities as well as cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.
Dale Littlejohn, co-author of the FIRST Heat report and executive director of the Canadian Energy Association, said the online tool is a spreadsheet that will show whether investing in a direct heating system would pay off.
“The tool is really designed to help folks take that initial first step to see if there’s potential to offset creating heat and economic development and keep money local while reducing wildfire fuels,” he said Tuesday.
As simple as that sounds, the benefits could be big. In 2008, wildfires cost B.C. $380 million.
The research group looked at three rural B.C. communities with varying types of forests: Burns Lake, Sicamous and Invermere, but the direct heating system could be used in any small community where heating costs (such as propane or heating oil) are high.
Direct heating furnaces are already being used in Revelstoke, Enderby and part of Prince George. Littlejohn said they connect between five and 15 buildings through underground, insulated pipes. The furnace burns wood waste at high heat, so particulate emissions are small.
“There are good ways to burn wood.”
Using the waste wood from wildfire prevention clearing not only prevents slash burning that gives off more emissions, but also provides a reliable fuel source, he said.
“With a district heat system, you need a regular supply or know what your fuel costs are going to be. That’s where community forests and wildfire interface risk management comes into play,” he said.
Pine beetle killed wood is another good source — it’s close by and it quickly dries out, he added.
The direct heat system would work well in First Nations communities and rural centres where there is a good supply of wood and where the cost of natural gas is high.
Littlejohn said the group is hoping to do a pilot project. B.C. has at least 30 communities not hooked in to natural gas and another 60 or so First Nations communities.
The other spinoff is jobs. The example showed in Sicamous alone, adding a direct heat system would cost about $5.5 million and create 50 local jobs. It would pay for itself in 25 years, replacing electricity, propane or heating oil and cut residents’ heating bills in half. It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes per year.
Find the FIRST Heat online spreadsheet at www.communityenergy.bc.ca/resources-introduction/first-heat.