From the wood-powered steamboats that once plied the Yukon River to the high-efficiency home wood stove, Yukoners have long relied on their forests for fuel.

But maybe not enough, according to the Yukon government. The territory has drafted a new “biomass energy strategy” that would see a move toward more use of wood fuel to heat buildings. The government wants to know what Yukoners think.

“We’re talking about a whole range of things,” says Matt Ball with the territory’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. “Things like pellet boilers, chip boilers which are made from local chips.”

Matt Ball

‘We’re talking about a whole range of things,’ says Matt Ball of Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. (CBC)

“At this point, we’re very supportive of all the options and keeping everything open as we move into the consultation phase,” Ball says.

Yukoners spend about $60 million every year to heat their buildings, and most of that money is spent on imported fossil fuels. The government says this drains money out of the territory, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Room to grow

Some Yukon buildings are already heated with biomass fuel. The Dawson City wastewater treatment facility uses a chip boiler, and the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is heated with a pellet boiler. The pellet fuel, however, comes from B.C. Ball says the goal is to eventually produce those pellets in Yukon.

The draft biomass strategy says Yukon’s forest industry has plenty of room to grow. It says the annual harvest of cordwood currently represents just 17 per cent of the territory’s energy consumption for heat, and timber harvest levels are well below what’s considered sustainable.

“These new, modern, clean systems have very low air quality concerns,” Ball says. He says the government wants to hear from the public about “their comfort around the use of these types of technologies and the proper use of them as well.”

Anne Middler

‘Using less energy needs to be the priority,’ says Anne Middler, energy analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society. (CBC)

Anne Middler, an energy analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, says she’s pleased the government is acknowledging the environmental and economic costs of burning fossil fuels. But she says switching to biomass doesn’t address the real issue — Yukon’s ever-growing energy needs.

“Reducing our demand, reducing waste, and just using less energy needs to be the priority,” she says. “Then we can talk about how are we going to best meet our energy needs.”

The government is seeking comment on its draft biomass strategy until late June. It’s also holding a public open house on June 4.