Taking Innovation to a New Level at School District #27

Alex Telford, Manager of Facilities and Transportation, has a big job maintaining over 28 facilities, keeping his finger on the pulse of energy reduction strategies, and supervising custodial services and transportation at Cariboo-Chilcotin School District #27 (SD#27). Like most diligent facilities’ managers, he juggles priorities to ensure school facilities run smoothly, while seeking innovative ways to meet BC’s Carbon Neutral Government (CNG) requirements including offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The heating system at Cataline Elementary School, built in 1972, located in Williams Lake, and bordering Thompson Rivers University (TRU), was on Telford’s radar back in 2013. Suffering a cracked heat exchanger, costly to operate, and suspected of producing high emissions, he was concerned its serviceable life was close to ending. Telford knew it was high time to put a comprehensive heating system upgrade plan in place.

2017-03-14-pellet-structure-catalineWhen approaching the planning, Telford had multiple goals in mind, including carbon emissions reduction, cost savings, efficiency, and easy maintenance. The requirements of the CNG Program were a major driver (i.e., offsets at $30/tonne of emissions), as were provincial carbon taxes at $25/tonne, and the school district’s 5% annual emissions reduction target. The SD#27 Alexis Creek and Tatla Lake facilities already had pellet boilers (also referred to as biomass boiler) installed, combined with propane for shoulder seasons, resulting in an average of $40,000 savings per annum. But space was a major limitation for a pellet boiler, especially since Cataline was also due an HVAC mechanical upgrade that would take up additional floor space. Plain out-of-the-box thinking and creative brainstorming brought together a unique and innovative solution that checked all the boxes.

Firstly, a decision was taken to construct a separate building on the Cataline property with space for a new state-of-the-art pellet boiler, new compact Viessmann gas boilers, heat exchangers, HVAC mechanical upgrade, and fuel storage. Next, with economies of scale in mind, and given the sheer power of the proposed pellet boiler, SD#27 approached JIm Gudjonson, Director of Sustainability at TRU, and proposed the new pellet boiler provide heat not only for the Cataline Elementary building and the EJ Bare kindergarten annex, but also for the entire TRU campus during the heavy winter season. Gudjonson thought using a renewable source to heat TRU in lieu of its current gas boilers that consumed a whopping 6,000 gigajoules per year made perfect sense. Because pellet boilers have limited dial-down capabilities, it was determined to use natural gas boilers (existing boilers at TRU, and new gas boiler heating at Cataline) for shoulder season, pellet boiler heating for heavy winter, and in extreme weather, e.g., -25° C, to rely on the on-site gas boilers for supplemental heat.

The framework for this stellar plan was coming together nicely; time to bring in some additional expertise thought Telford. Rocky Point Engineering had already provided engineering oversight on SD#27’s previous pellet boiler installations. Team lead, Cory Langevin, was excited by the prospect of working to meet the emissions reduction targets while optimizing efficiencies. Rocky Point took the lead designing the system, identifying the capacity and criteria, developed the contractor RFP, and oversaw the entire project to ensure it met specifications. Additionally, the team secured funding for the project through the Province’s Carbon Neutral Capital Program—this was an enormous boost.

The successful contractor, Ventek Energy Systems, is without doubt an industry expert having managed 12 of the 50 installations across Canada. It launched the 24 month SD#27 project in discussion with the global manufacturing leader of pellet boilers, ARITERM, located in Finland. The tried and tested process, from start to finish, included system design and requirements, building a budget for SD#27 approval, and securing funding—this took about 12 months. Once the first phase was approved, the pellet boiler was manufactured in Finland, shipped to Canada—a two-month voyage—assembled by the Ventek team in Quesnel, lowered into its new building structure on the Cataline grounds by crane, and finally hooked up and ready for testing.

2017-03-14-pellets-catalineMarkku Riionheimo, team lead at Ventek, is a huge supporter of biofuel options, which significantly reduce fossil fuel based carbon emissions and one of the least expensive methods of helping the earth. The biofuel wood pellets used are produced locally in Williams Lake, and a seven-ton dump truck load costs as little as $900; and lasts two weeks in the dead of winter; this is a substantial savings over natural gas.

Over and above Rocky Point and Ventek expertise, the SD#27 maintenance team of five, led by Marc Loewen, managed the on-site heavy lifting including all the piping, electrical, plumbing, welding, mechanical work, and final tie in of the system. Removal of all asbestos tile and electrical heating, a new sprinkler system, new dampers, DCC system, and fire alarm panel were side benefits of the project. All this was achieved as well as the team’s regular maintenance work, which meant a lot of hard work starting 18 months prior to go-live. It has paid off, because now the team is familiar with the ins and outs of the system and is well prepared to maintain it going forward, including daily checks and regular service checks at four to six month intervals.

The soft launch for the new Cataline pellet boiler occurred 23 October 2016—just in time for the onset of another cold winter in Williams Lake. The children and student benefactors of the new system have been enjoying the new regulated heat with individual thermostat controls in each classroom. John Silkstone, Principal at Cataline, is very pleased with the quietly efficient clean tech solution.

2017-03-14-pellet boiler- catalineSo now it’s all up and running smoothly, the big question is: did SD#27 meet all its goals? Rede Energy Solutions, SD#27’s energy management engineering team, is happy to report the following noteworthy benefits: the new pellet boiler is 95% carbon neutral resulting in significant carbon tax and offset purchase requirement reductions; compared to earlier SD#27 pellet boiler systems, the new system is far superior having unique heat regulation abilities and versatile turn down ratios that translates into less reliance on the more costly gas boilers; TRU is enjoying a 15% savings in heating costs with no capital outlay, no maintenance expenses, as well as lower carbon tax and offset purchase requirements. Rede believes it’s safe to say that all goals were met, although it will be a few months before SD#27 will get the real numbers.

Orest Maslany, BC Climate Action Secretariat, recently made the following congratulatory comment, “School District 27’s fuel switching project is a great example of how the public sector can reduce their carbon emissions while lowering operating costs. Through determination, innovation and collaboration, projects like this are making important contributions to BC’s carbon neutral goals across the provincial public sector every year.”

Says the mastermind behind this project, Telford, “It’s a most promising project that certainly makes sense to replicate. It was a busy time with multiple simultaneous projects on the go, and we learned a lot. Kudos and thanks to all involved on this outstanding energy conserving project.”

Background Information

SD#27 Upgrade Technical Specification

  • Boiler: 400kW Ariterm Bio with vertical flow convection section c/w moving grate BioJet burner, Arimatic 500CN Control System, Tosibox on-line operating system, GSM access system, PS10 Pellet Feeder, and modular K4 Walking Floor fuel storage system.
  • 10% turn down and 3-5% up keeping
  • Variable Frequency Drive fuel feed system.
  • Separate heating zones for Cataline Elementary School, E.J.Bare Education Centre and TRU Campus with individual Flow and Energy Metering for each.
  • 760m of insulated underground heating piping for the three buildings

All products are certified to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards. For the North American market, the pressure vessels are available with the ASME H stamp certification

Carbon Neutrality

Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset. The following two diagrams offer insight into the benefits of the SD#27 pellet boiler solutions over burning fossil fuels, such as natural gas.

2017-03-14-carbon-neutrality diagram-cycle

2017-03-14-carbon-neutrality diagram-earth-cycle

Note: Wood releases the CO2 bound to it whether burned or left to rot in the forest.