Alternative Energy

The prosperity of the OBAC region has long been reliant on its timber resources. However, the mountain pine beetle epidemic is expected to diminish opportunities in the traditional forestry sector for several decades. The cost of conventional energy in North America has increased substantially over the last five years and is expected to continue to increase. The region is well positioned to use a portion of its considerable wood and other resources for the production of energy. The increased production and use of alternative energy in the region can provide important economic, social, and environmental benefits to the region. These benefits include the creation of new manufacturing and service businesses and related jobs, the maintenance of existing forest sector employment, reduced energy imports, and reduced emissions from fossil fuels.

The region has a number of existing alternative energy projects and good potential for further growth. The technologies include biomass for heat and power generation, wind power, small and micro-hydropower, geothermal power, geo-exchange systems, solar PV, solar thermal energy, and energy from waste. Their use can be accomplished in a way that maintains or improves the environmental quality in the region.

A total of 150 MW of alternative electrical power generation capacity is in place or is planned for the region. There is sufficient roadside wood residue available for another 200 MW. Therefore, based on the estimated current use of 400 MW, the region could become a net exporter of electricity if other resources, such as wind and hydro, were also developed. Likewise, natural gas and heating oil could be replaced with biomass and solar energy, as well as geo-exchange systems in many cases. It is not unrealistic to believe that net energy exporter status could be achieved within the next ten to twenty years. There are however major challenges which must be addressed if this is to be achieved. These challenges are described in Section 4 and include financing, energy pricing, and the availability of skilled workers. In the case of biomass power and heat production, a major barrier is the cost of collecting and transporting wood fibre from the land base to an energy facility.

At the present time, it is estimated that heating costs are reduced by 30 to 65% if wood is substituted for natural gas. This cost difference provides a strong incentive for industrial and other large consumers of natural gas for heating to utilize wood and alternative energy technologies. Reduced heating costs should make regional industries more competitive and also help to attract new industries to the region.

OBAC, working with various levels of government, education, and the private sector, invited a representative working group to develop a vision of how the region could look in ten years in terms of the use of alternative energy systems. OBAC envisions a future in which energy production from alternative sources is efficient, sustainable, makes effective use of local resources and provides tangible and substantial benefits to the economy and environment of the region. This vision includes a region where an alternative energy industry supports regional economic diversification through an integrated approach that complements its existing industry.

Through the implementation of the recommendations and actions, the objectives presented below can be achieved. This will ensure that the region is a leader in the use of alternative energy where its use provides economic, social and environmental benefits.

Objective 1.

Meet a significant proportion of the region’s energy needs from alternative energy sources in order to reduce or eliminate dependence on imported fossil fuels for heating and power generation, and to retain wealth generated from energy related products and services in the region.

Objective 2.

Develop regional expertise in research, development, manufacturing and installation of alternative energy technologies that can be used regionally and exported elsewhere in Canada and to the world.

Objective 3.

Make use of available fibre, including the fibre resulting from the mountain pine beetle epidemic, to produce bioenergy.

Objective 4.

Retain regional expertise in the forest sector by creating new forest product opportunities in the alternative energy sector.

Objective 5.

Grow regional capacities to train and retain the required workforce.

Objective 6.

Contribute to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Objective 7.

Achieve global recognition as an industry leader in safe and sustainable mining.

Objective 8.

Identify further commercially viable mineral resources.

Recommendations and actions have been developed based on these objectives. There are five specific recommendations that OBAC believes will result in sustainable growth in the production and use of alternative energy in the OBAC region. Under each of these recommendations, specific actions are presented to serve as guideposts for future planning and implementation of the strategy. OBAC is confident that if these recommendations and the associated actions are implemented, the objectives listed above and the vision presented in Section 1 will be achieved.


The five recommendations are:

Recommendation 1.

Remove impediments to the flow of wood fibre and other fibrous fuels to biomass energy projects.

Recommendation 2.

Conduct research on alternative energy opportunities and make relevant information readily available to industry and government decision makers.

Recommendation 3.

Provide ‘Leadership by Example’ alternative energy programs and initiatives at federal, provincial, and local government levels.

Recommendation 4.

Increase the regional use of alternative energy systems in order to provide overall economic, social, and environmental benefits.

Recommendation 5.

Provide training and certification for installation and systems operation to help build regional expertise in alternative energy.

Further engagement with and between leaders of OBAC communities and First Nations in order to identify regional and local interests and opportunities and make new relationships a reality is a very high priority for the initial implementation phase of all of the strategies. Alternative energy projects provide excellent opportunities for positive and mutually beneficial engagement at the community level.

Some of the recommended key actions include:

  • When pine stands are no longer viable for the production of conventional forest products, provide financial incentives that encourage their harvest for the production of energy. These incentives should be in place where overall economic, social, and environmental benefits warrant this use;
  • Consider direct public investment in large scale alternative energy projects where they can provide a significant portion of the region and province’s future electrical needs;
  • Conduct research into the feasibility of planting fast-growing tree species such as poplar on some parcels affected by pine beetle in order to generate a long-term biomass energy crop for electricity generation;
  • Locate the new chair for Advanced Bioenergy Technologies at UNBC and survey the biomass energy industry to identify current key applied research needs and priorities;
  • Review all local government planning documents and remove any unnecessary barriers to the use of alternative energy;
  • Conduct energy audits and alternative energy assessments for local government, provincial, and federal buildings and determine the feasibility of retrofitting these buildings; and
  • Provide training and certification in alternative energy technologies using partnerships and existing programs where possible.

These actions and overall implementation of this strategy will require key and timely decisions by the provincial and federal governments. Detailed actions, rationales, and timelines are presented in Section 6 under the five recommendations. There are 38 actions identified that can be taken by senior governments, local governments, and individual organizations, or groups of organizations, to enhance and build the alternative energy sector which will result in a stronger and more resilient region.