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Community energy planning helps address energy security issues and achieve sustainability goals

Energy… we use it every day. From the moment we wake up, to when we go to bed. Even while we sleep, we are consuming energy.

Electrical and thermal energy are used to heat and cool our homes, cook our meals, and keep us entertained by powering all of our electronic gadgets. At work, energy is used to regulate the temperature of our work spaces and power the lights and electronic equipment.

In urban areas of Canada, we are very fortunate to have abundant resources in close proximity to where we live, which allows us to benefit from low energy costs. However, some remote and “off grid” communities are not as fortunate when it comes to keeping their energy costs down. The location of energy resources and the cost of conventional energy have some communities concerned about their energy security.

In addition to energy security concerns in remote communities, some are recognizing the impacts of climate change and have embarked on community sustainability initiatives. Typically, sustainability initiatives include reducing energy consumption and/or exploring “green” energy opportunities.

Whether the objective is energy security or striving for a more sustainable community, they are addressing their concerns and sustainability initiatives through the development of a Community Energy Plan. These plans typically include the following components:

  • Assessing existing and future energy demands
  • Identifying the location of the existing and future energy demands
  • Evaluating the availability and capacity of conventional and renewable energy resources within the community or within close proximity of the community
  • Evaluating the infrastructure needs and costs of conventional and renewable energy supply
  • Evaluating the feasibility of conventional and renewable energy resources
  • Developing energy system concepts
  • Developing an implementation schedule and funding options

Recently, Associated Engineering completed two Community Energy Planning projects for the District of Elkford in BC and the Town of Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories.

District of Elkford – a community with sustainability objectives

The District of Elkford wishes to enhance the sustainability of their operations by reducing their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. To assist the District in achieving the greenhouse gas reduction targets outlined in their Official Community Plan, Associated Engineering conducted a Community Energy Study. The study identified opportunities for implementing renewable energy at the District’s facilities and prioritized potential projects based on the most significant greenhouse gas emission reductions per dollar spent. The renewable energy technologies included in the study were hydro-electricity, micro-wind power, photovoltaic solar energy, solar thermal hot water heating, biomass (specifically pine beetle-killed wood), as well as ground-loop and water-based geo-exchange.

Town of Norman Wells – a remote community with energy security concerns

Currently, the Town of Norman Wells uses natural gas as their primary heating fuel and source for their electricity generation. Gas is produced locally as a by-product of oil production from the nearby Imperial Oil Limited production facility. Imperial Oil has indicated that the community’s supply of gas is running out. Commercial gas service will therefore be terminated by June 30, 2013, with the end of residential gas service following on June 30, 2014. The Town is therefore required to transition to an alternative energy source and engaged Associated Engineering to assist them.

The first phase of the assignment was to review and investigate the feasibility of various alternative heat energy sources including fuel oil, propane, biomass (wood pellets or chips), hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, geoexchange, and process heat recovery.

The study showed that a biomass district energy system would be the most technically viable and cost-effective solution for the community. Presently, Associated Engineering is working with the Town to obtain funding and implement the recommended biomass district energy system.

About the author:

Helen Chan, P.Eng. is a Civil Engineer with over 12 years of experience and a diverse technical and project management background in both the consulting and municipal sectors. Helen takes a holistic approach to decision-making by considering the short and longterm environmental, social, and economic impacts. She is a member of the BCWWA Climate Change Committee, a newly formed committee which supports and promotes climate change adaptation initiatives in the water and wastewater industry.