Company looks to restart, expand bioheat project
By Chad Ingram
Jamie Stephen of TorchLight Bioresources was back in Dysart et al council chambers on Nov. 26, looking to restart, and expand, a bioheat district energy system for Haliburton Village, a project that was derailed after the Ford government pulled funding during the summer of 2018, following its election that spring.
It was announced in April of 2018 that Dysart et al had been successful in obtaining a $2.8-million grant from the province’s Municipal Greenhouse Gas Challenge Fund, the monies for which came from Ontario’s cap-and-trade system. That money was to act as the municipality’s equity in the project, which would have been a public/private partnership, half the revenues flowing to Dysart et al and half to a private consortium.
The system was to include a central energy centre, where wood chips would be burned in specialized equipment, heating water in a boiler, that water then distributed throughout a series of underground pipes providing heat and water heating to buildings in the downtown area of Haliburton Village.
According to Stephen, it was anticipated that business owners could have saved up to 30 per cent on their heating bills, and the project would have created a number of jobs, including at Haliburton Forest, which was to be the wood chip supplier.
Money had already started flowing to the municipality, a utility corporation to run the Haliburton system had been incorporated, and a seven-member board of directors (three reps from the municipality, three from the private partners and one neutral chairperson) had already been established and had held a number of meetings. A civil engineer had been hired.
When the Ford government announced in July of 2018 that the funding was being revoked, the project was halted, since the $2.8 million grant was to be the municipality’s equity in the project.
During last week’s meeting, Stephen told councillors he’d like to reboot, and grow, the proposed project. While the intent of the initial project had been to serve mostly commercial buildings in the core of Haliburton Village, what Stephen is now proposing would be larger in scope and involve three clusters.
One would be most of Haliburton Village, this time including residences whose owners may want on the system, another would be the Fleming College campus, and the third would include the Haliburton Highlands Health Services site, as well as the three schools – SBES, JDH and HHSS – located close by.
Stephen’s recommendation is that this cluster constitute the project’s first phase, since it would contractually and technically be the easiest system to initiate, and could act as a showpiece to the rest of the community as to the effectiveness of the technology.
TorchLight would look to the municipality for the installation of the piping. The total capital cost for the entire project is estimated at between $15 and $20 million.
“A grant needs to be secured to restart this project,” Stephen told councillors, indicating that if council approved, it was his intention to make an application under the Investing in Canadian Infrastructure Program, a dedicated green stream of which will provide $2.25 billion worth of funding for projects aimed at environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation. Stephen told council a successful grant application would mean the ICIP would cover up to 73 per cent of the project cost.
The funding program uses a combination of federal, provincial and municipal funding, with the feds typically contributing the largest portion of funding, followed by the provincial government, followed by the municipality. For example, for the $1.25 million replacement of the Hawk Lake bridge, the federal government will provide $625,000, the province $412,500 and the County of Haliburton $212,500.
Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy was curious about what the municipality’s financial commitments would be if a grant application was successful, and where the proposed project would fit into a wide-ranging list of priorities for the municipality.
“My question is, to council, where does this fit in our priorities?” Kennedy said. “Is this a No. 1, 2, 3, or nice to have?”
Stephen said the municipality’s portion of capital costs would be covered by the grant.
“Your share is the grant,” he said. “ . . . The 26 per cent would come from the private sector.”
“We need another meeting on this,” Kennedy said.
Stephen also said he realized the process would include consultation with the public.
“We’re fully aware there is a lot of community consultation required for this kind of approach,” he said.
While councillors seemed generally positive about at least proceeding with a grant application, no resolution was passed at the meeting, and the issue will return to the council table.