Energy Solutions

Saulteau First Nations Works to Achieve On-Reserve Energy Self-Sufficiency

First Nation Launches New BioMass Boiler and Heating System

Biomass facility, fuel storage auger, and loading auger

With energy costs on the rise, access to a stable, reliable and affordable energy supply is key to any community’s self-sufficiency. Saulteau First Nations has a bold vision for energy sustainability—to be fully off the grid by 2020. Located at the east end of Moberly Lake roughly 100km southwest of Fort St. John, the nation has been working with Urban Systems for about three years on various projects related to their vision.

Together we recently built a new biomass direct energy system, which was turned on for the first time this spring.

“The new heating system is a positive step towards Saulteau First Nations’ desire to reduce their ecological footprint and get back to traditional ways of working with the environment—they’ve been very progressive in their vision,” says Urban Systems Environmental Engineer Kimberly Zackodnik, who worked closely on the project.


Powered from the Inside

View inside boiler

Saulteau First Nations was initially excited to explore variety of possible clean energy projects, from hydropower, wind power, solar, biomass and more. From the feasibility assessment conducted with Urban, one system stood out as a great place to start: a biomass heating system. Local forestry operations, regional mills and pellet facilities could provide affordable fuel, and the new system would reduce the current use of propane, and drastically cut heating costs for the community.

Projections showed that a new biomass system could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 115 tonnes per year, displace 72,000 litres of propane per year, and save around $26,000 per year in energy costs, not to mention foster new economic development opportunities and enhance energy security. After the business case was complete, approximately 50% of the project was approved to be funded through federal and provincial programs.

Saulteau’s system is one of the first biomass projects Urban has been a part of, and Kimberly says it’s been exciting to see it come to life. Youth in the community helped build the system, which is now fully constructed and built (a 220 kW Viessmann Pyrot Wood Boiler was installed this spring) and in late August 2018 when it is again started up for the colder months, it will be run and maintained by community members.

“Seeing this come to life has been so rewarding,” says Kimberly. “It’s simple to use, clean burning and has minimal exhaust. The operators are quite happy—the simplicity of the system surprised them a fair bit. The pellet storage is in silo, and it’s a very visible aspect in the community. This got people curious—at first we heard comments like ‘Are we building a farmyard?’ but now that people understand it, it’s been really well accepted. We’ve used local capacity to get this built, from local labourers who helped at the beginning of the project to youth in the community who were going through a college course for concrete formwork and rebar placements being engaged to do concrete work for the building slab. Community members have also been specially trained to run the system and there’s a real sense of ownership.”

And as for the future of the Saulteau First Nations—it looks like clean energy is there to stay. There are plans to connect the heating system to more buildings and expand to a larger scale as funding becomes available.


Biomass is a term that refers to getting energy by burning organic (plant or animal) material. Bioenergy is energy produced from biomass, which can come from any renewable source. Bioenergy is a versatile energy form that can be used instead of or in addition to traditional forms of energy. It can also complement other clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power energy.

In this project pellets are used as the burning fuel. Waste from mills is processed into pellets (a dense form of woodchips that don’t retain moisture) and the pellets are then burned in a boiler. Pellets have many advantages: They have a high energy content per volume, they’re cleaner (less dust), their consistent size and shape reduces clogging, and automation is possible for a fuel supply system.

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