Norman Wells, N.W.T., looks to wood pellet heating system

The town of Norman Wells, N.W.T., could be switching to wood pellets as it searches to replace its dwindling natural gas heat.

Town's natural gas reserve has been dwindling for a year now

The town of Norman Wells, N.W.T., could be switching to wood pellets.

The community is looking at a centralized heating system which will cost more than $30 million. It would replace the town’s dwindling natural gas heat it uses now.

Residents like Sam Kivi, who has lived in the town for 15 years, are looking for a solution. Many have been paying higher bills ever since the natural gas reserve started running low last year.

In this Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 photo, Dan Stevens loads pellets into the pellet stove at his home in Gardiner, Maine. The number of households using wood as a heating source nearly doubled in Maine from 2000 to 2010, while growing by a third nationwide, according to U.S. Census figures. (Pat Wellenbach/AP Photo)

"When I first came here I went from oil in Yellowknife which was very expensive to natural gas which was very reasonable and I could afford to pay it over a winter season. Now my bills have gone up times four since that time," he said.

Dudley Johnson, the mayor, said the town is looking at a $33.8 million proposal for central heating with wood pellets. If they use wood pellets, they would get more government subsidies because the method is more environmentally friendly.

"We have a plan put in place to go green with a central heating system, which is the one which will give us the most funding. If you went diesel or propane you could not access all these funds," said Johnson.

The cost could also be offset by future tax revenue as Norman Wells expects to grow, thanks to a gas boom in the Sahtu region.

The heating could also be changed later.

"It’s easily convertible back to natural gas, if and when natural gas is either discovered, or the Mackenzie valley natural gas project goes ahead," Johnson added.

Residents will get a chance to weigh in on the heating options at a public meeting next week.