Wood pellets to warm new jail

The new $70-million Whitehorse Correctional Centre is being heated with a wood-pellet burner. A tall silo beside the main building holds wood pellets. About 63 tonnes of pellets are needed to feed the building’s burner.

The new $70-million Whitehorse Correctional Centre is being heated with a wood-pellet burner.

A tall silo beside the main building holds wood pellets. About 63 tonnes of pellets are needed to feed the building’s burner for a cold, winter month, said Justice official Bob Riches when he recently gave local media a tour of the facility slated to open next month.

Right now, the government is buying wood pellets from Hay River, N.W.T., he says.

But it’s hoped that one day the pellets will be produced and sold in the Yukon. The jail could become an important consumer.

The Yukon Wood Products Association has been pushing for local pellet production for several years. If woodcutters could sell their waste as fuel, it’s hoped they could cut more trees and start churning out higher-end products, like log homes and glue-laminate beams.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation’s business arm, Dakwakada Development Corporation, is also considering building a wood pellet mill. The existence of a big, institutional customer, like the jail, may help bolster this business case. That is provided the wood-fired furnace works as promised.

When Yukon College was built in 1988, a fancy furnace, called a fluidized-bed gasifier, was installed. It was supposed to run off wood but it could only be made to run when an outside expert came in to twiddle its knobs. So the furnace, which was installed at great expense, now gathers dust.

The Elijah Smith Elementary School in Whitehorse also has a furnace designed to burn oil, wood pellets and wood chips. But it had problems with clogging so it was only used for a short period of time before being abandoned.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com