Gas tax funds fuel a greener Commonwealth Place

$4 million contribution will go towards achieving carbon neutrality at Saanich Commonwealth Place

Saanich Commonwealth Place will soon replace its natural gas boilers for biomass boilers.

The project was announced on Friday, as the District of Saanich secured a $4 million contribution from the federal gas tax. It will reduce the recreation centre’s carbon footprint by 90 per cent, helping Saanich achieve its goals of carbon neutrality.

Design work will begin this year with construction in 2019 through 2021. Last year, Saanich committed to becoming a 100 per cent renewable energy community and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.

Replacing the boiler plant at Saanich Commnowealth Place is a big step, but Saanich facilities are only a small part of the overall goal, said Mayor Richard Atwell. Gordon Head and Municipal Hall have also had their boilers replaced with more efficient systems in the last two years, he noted.

“We get some of our gas tax money back, that we’ve been paying at the pump as residents, going into this facilty,” Atwell said. “Saanich is only a small piece of the footprint, we need to build on this to reduce the footprint of the community and get these efficiencies out into the housing [sector].”

The mechanical system replacement includes the deployment of biomass boilers, an upgrade from the existing natural gas boilers. This conversion enables the facility to use renewable fuel instead of fossil fuels, which are currently responsible for nearly one-fifth of Saanich’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The increased cooling capacity in many areas of the building will enhance services offered to the public.

“Biomass is a locally sourced renewable fuel that will help Saanich reduce its corporate carbon footprint and meet its goal of becoming a 100 per cent renewable community while supporting local businesses and helping pre-consumer and post-consumer industries and markets,” said Harley Machielse, Saanich director of Engineering.

Biomass can exist in many organic forms. Common forms consist of wood chips, wood pellets or mixed wood, such as chips and pellets.

Saanich will has yet to determine which exact type will be used. That, and what combustion or gasification method the boilers will use, will come in the design process, Machielse said.

“Saanich will seek out local, sustainable supply chains of biomass. All of these supply chains are currently available on the island and considered sources of renewable energy. Examples of supply chains could be local sawmills, millwork plants or biomass chips from dimensional lumber offcuts. The District aims to reduce the facility’s emissions by 90 per cent, (750 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year), which considers carbon emissions associated with fuel and transportation.

The boiler plant at Commonwealth Place heats the hydronic systems within the building, including the pools, hot tub, and showers. In addition to the boiler replacement, the project will replace the existing dehumidifier with a new heat recovery system that can transfer energy back into the pool or other spaces within the building, Machielse explained.

Biomass heating systems aren’t new, and there are several examples currently serving facilites on Vancouver Island, inlcuding Lake Cowichan secondary, Canadian Bavarian Millwork and Lumber in Chemainus, and the British Columbia Institute of Technology campus in Richmond.

“Saanich appreciates both the UBCM and the Federal Government for their financial support to increase energy efficiency of our recreation facilities as we work toward achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050,” said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell.

“An investment in community infrastructure is an investment in our quality of life,” said Saanich South MLA Lana Popham. “I would like to recognize the partnership between all levels of government that will renew a valuable community asset for the people of Saanich.”

Commonwealth Place – built as part of the legacy of the 1994 Commonwealth Games – is used by more than 2,500 residents every day, employing about 200 staff and 150 contractors.

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