Many rural BC communities are at risk from wildfire. This risk will increase over time as a result of climate change impacts – increased average summer temperatures and longer periods of drought. Many of these same communities are simultaneously faced with increasing heating costs as fuel costs rise, and growing demand for heat as population increases. However, they will be surrounded by this rich resource of an alternative, local, low-carbon heating fuel: biomass. This presents an excellent opportunity to combine community wildfire risk abatement with bioenergy development – combining both climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Additional co-benefits to this approach include: 1) reduced community energy expenditures; 2) the creation of local jobs; 3) and increased community energy security. This resource, however, needs to be managed to ensure ecological sustainability to ensure its availability in the long term.
Three institutions have been involved in a study to facilitate the first steps of this planning to communities: the University of British Columbia, and BC-based non-profit organizations Community Energy Association and Green Heat Initiative. The partnership brings together forest ecosystem modelling and research with expert knowledge on alternative energy technologies and effective outreach to help bridge the gap between alternative energy planning and implementation for small communities that may not have the capacity to conduct such feasibility studies themselves.
Forest fuel supplies are simulated while monitoring for ecosystem and soil health for three rural BC communities: Burns Lake, Invermere, and Sicamous. These three communities serve as representative examples of regions that account for much of the forested area across BC: the Shuswap, the Kootenays, and the North. Maps of each community’s forest interface area with quantified estimates of its sustainable biomass resource potential from different management scenarios are created. In addition the communities have been visited to have potential bioenergy opportunities assessed, with the support of the local governments.
Communities will be able to utilize this information to help them make biomass an integral part of their energy supply profile. The results and experience gained through the work with these communities has been synthetized in a calculator that will be freely distributed to help other communities not specifically included in the study in making their own generalized assessments. This calculator is an accessible screening-level tool: FIRST Heat.
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