Biomass could reduce GNWT warehouse oil use by 90 percent

A file image of wood pellets
A file image of wood pellets.

Work is under way on a new biomass heating system in Yellowknife that could significantly reduce oil use and costs for the territorial government. 

J&R Mechanical is building the district heating system, to be powered by a 390-kilowatt wood pellet boiler. Ken Miller, vice president of operations, said it’s three to four weeks from completion. 

“There’s been a lot of red tape involved, permits and stuff with the city and all that,” he said. “We’re getting really close to having a substantially complete and functional system.”

During the project’s first phase, the system will supply heat to the territory’s central warehouse on Byrne Road and three privately-owned buildings. Miller hopes to then expand the system to more buildings. 



“We just want to get this first phase running and prove that everything’s working properly,” he said. 

The territorial government said it expects the new heating system to reduce oil use in the warehouse by about 60,000 litres every year, or 90 percent of current oil use. 

The territory said biomass will reduce emissions while lowering and stabilizing operating costs, adding it’s more cost-effective to have a central plant heating multiple buildings.

While the price of oil has fluctuated, Miller said, the price for heat from wood pellets has been fairly consistent over the past decade.



In April last year, an emissions reduction report from social justice think-tank Alternatives North recommended that the territorial and federal governments invest around $145 million in wood pellet boilers for NWT communities over the next five years. 

The territorial government is contributing $274,000 toward J&R Mechanical’s project as part of its pledge to double the use of renewable energy for NWT heating by 2030. 

The NWT already has biomass district heating systems in Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Behchokǫ̀, and Inuvik. That includes one in the territory’s new Tatsaotı̨̀ne building on Yellowknife’s 49 Street, which also provides heat to the neighbouring Arthur Laing and Stuart Hodgson buildings.

Miller said J&R Mechanical has installed a district heating system in Whatì and is working on one in Aklavik. 

The territory currently gets wood pellets from a plant east of High Level, Alberta, which are made of waste sawdust from lumber mills. Former Hay River mayor Brad Mapes plans to open a wood pellet plant, alongside other industrial ventures, in Enterprise.  

The GNWT said use of biomass is being considered for all new government facilities being constructed in the territory.