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Visitors flock to Yukon village to see bioenergy system in action

Once a month, and even up to once a week in the summer, the Teslin Tlingit Council leads tours of their system, where biomass boilers heat 10 of the community's major buildings.

Hundreds of people have travelled to learn about Teslin's biomass heating system

Blair Hogan explains Teslin's biomass heating system to visitors from B.C. and the N.W.T. (Nelly Albérola/Radio-Canada)

The Yukon village of Teslin has become a world-leading model in biomass heating, with more than 900 people from around the globe having visited to learn about the facilities.

Once a month, and even up to once a week in the summer, the Teslin Tlingit Council leads tours of its system, where biomass boilers heat ten of the community's major buildings. It went into operation almost a year ago, and has been attracting visitors like Fred Behrens ever since.

"We just received funding to install the same biomass heating system for our recreation centre," said Behrens, the senior administrative officer for the Hamlet of Aklavik, N.W.T.

"We thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see a system that's operational."

Unlike conventional wood heating systems, biomass boilers use only low-grade waste wood products as fuel, such as sawdust, chips and leftover wood from cut trees, but also whole trees felled as a result of construction work.

Project managers in Teslin say the biomass boilers save the community 120,000 litres of fuel each year. (Nelly Albérola/Radio-Canada)

"We had so much waste wood from the first year that we had to grow our system to accommodate it," said Blair Hogan, project manager in Teslin.

Beyond just regular forestry waste, the biomass system uses undergrowth, trees and other byproducts of forest clearing for fire prevention.

"The Yukon always sees some of the biggest impacts from forest fires each year," said Ranj Pillai, the territory's minister of energy, mines and resources. He said biomass is part of a more holistic approach to using Yukon's wood resources.

The system is fueled by waste wood pieces that are turned into chips, then fed into the boilers. (Nelly Albérola/Radio-Canada)

Pillai says the current government has supported around a dozen biomass projects since 2016.

He says they are "learning from the mistakes" made with earlier biomass projects, such as the system that was installed at Yukon College and ultimately removed a few years ago.

"You have to make sure that government and the people around it embrace the technology. If not, it will sit idle and then it's a waste," Pillai said.

Biomass boilers heat ten of the Teslin Tlingit Council's largest buildings. (Nelly Albérola/Radio-Canada)

The Teslin Tlingit Council was awarded nearly $500,000 in grants from the territorial government, and more recently received another $595,000 from the Indigenous Forestry Initiative program at Natural Resources Canada.

"Teslin specifically is a really great example of a community-driven project," said Laura MacKenzie, acting director of the federal program.

"They planned, constructed and they operate their own bio-heat system … And they're now a demonstration site for community bioenergy projects."

Those behind Teslin's system say financial support is necessary for any community that wants to pursue alternative energy solutions.

It takes a few years for communities to see the return on their investment, said Hogan.

"If we didn't have such strong federal grants, these projects might not occur," he said.

Hogan says the biomass boilers save the community about 120,000 litres of fuel each year.

But the Teslin Tlingit Council isn't stopping there. The First Nation is working on producing biomass electricity, and hopes to make the community's new cultural centre self-sufficient when it comes to energy.

Hundreds of people from around the world have visited Teslin specifically to learn about the community's biomass system. (Nelly Albérola/Radio-Canada)

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