CBRM Council: District Energy

A district energy system proposed for Downtown Sydney has undergone a significant metamorphosis since the last time it was on my radar, in January 2020.

This scheme — one of a number of initiatives arising from a partnership between CBRM and Efficiency Nova Scotia that dates to 2015 — has been rumbling along behind the scenes since at least 2017, when CBRM and Toronto-based Enwave Energy commissioned a $175,400 feasibility study, for which the CBRM received $74,700 from the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), a federal program established in 2000 and administered by the FCM, and an additional $25,300 from the Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (That left $75,400 which, presumably, was contributed by Enwave.)

The GMF funding was awarded in the spring of 2018, at which point David Brushett, the CBRM’s original Efficiency Nova Scotia on-site energy manager, told council that Enwave, was prepared to make a “substantial investment” in a system that would “utilize waste heat” from Centre 200 and geothermal heat from the harbor to “provide cheap, clean heat and electricity to buildings downtown.”

Source: District Heating and Cooling at Sydney Harbour

Source: District Heating and Cooling at Sydney Harbour (Ramboll report)

By the time that feasibility study, conducted by the Danish firm Ramboll, was completed, CBRM had a new Efficiency NS on-site manager, Ken LeBlanc, who told council during its April 2019 meeting that Enwave had “indicated they believe there is a viable project to be had here,” although the nature of the project had apparently changed.

The feasibility study (which is included in my 2020 story and which focused on servicing 12 downtown buildings, six of which didn’t exist because they were part of Harbour Royale Development Ltd’s waterfront development plan) found that “piping treated wastewater from Battery Point” to a “facility downtown” was the best option financially while a “biomass facility” was the best option environmentally. (One scenario presented by Ramboll had a biomass boiler in the basement of a new central library.)

Despite the investment of $100,000 in public money, LeBlanc told council in April 2019:

Right now, it’s a private company doing private business and the CBRM is just going to support that and await their decision on how to move forward.

In January 2020, LeBlanc updated council on the district energy project, noting that the feasibility study — completed in April 2019 — was still “awaiting submission to CBRM” and that the next step was that Enwave would “attempt to de-risk” the project by “securing customers and obtaining additional funding.”

And then…nothing.

Until I noted it on the agenda for yesterday morning’s special session of council devoted to environmental issues.


District Energy 2.0

Do you remember me saying I was going to experiment in covering council meetings by writing part of my coverage based on information in the agenda, then updating based on what was actually said during the council meeting?

Well, that backfired on me this week, because I wrote about district energy, which was supposed to be item 5.4 on yesterday’s agenda, but the presentation was moved to the next regular meeting of council.

So, I will discuss what was included in the agenda this week, but I will not be able to tell you what council has to say about it until council says something about it.

The update on the district energy system was to have been presented by Ken LeBlanc, who is now CBRM’s community development coordinator, a post he assumed in April 2020.

LeBlanc’s new hat is not the only change since January 2020 — Enwave has apparently left the building. LeBlanc’s council presentation makes no mention of this private company that was once prepared to make a “substantial investment” in this project.

Instead, he notes that the preliminary 2019 study found that a district energy system “could be financially viable and have positive environmental impacts” but that “further analysis was required for investment.”




It seems that “further analysis” was funded by the Cape Breton Partnership, which “commissioned a detailed study in 2020/21.” That study was recently completed, but was not attached to the council agenda.

LeBlanc felt the need to tell council that:

CBRM Forward economic development consultants and technical advisory committee (TAWG) members have been kept well informed of this project from the beginning of the CBRM Forward Initiative.

The subtext seems to be, “even though you and the general public have not.” (The CBRM Forward Initiative, in case you’ve forgotten, began in March 2021.)

The Cape Breton Partnership-funded analysis seems to have alighted on wastewater energy recovery as the most likely source of district energy.

But the project has advanced even further than that — LeBlanc’s slides indicate that Class D capital budget estimates for the project have been produced and an application for funding has been submitted to the provincial government.

The estimated cost of the project is $37,920,000 — $27,681,600 is to come from the Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) and $10,238,400 from CBRM.

The system will eliminate 4,820 tons of CO2 emissions annually and “decrease utility costs for building owners” in downtown Sydney. (This is a very good time to be a building owner in downtown Sydney, amiright?)

To make a funding decision, according to LeBlanc, the province needs to see “non-binding letters of interest” from these building owners and of the 56 letters that have been distributed, just three have been returned. Twelve owners attended an information session on October 18. Which makes me question LeBlanc’s assertion that “based on current customer interest the system is projected to be cast flow positive in year 1 of operation.”

That’s all I could glean about the project from the meeting agenda, but I will try to find out more before the November council meeting.

Featured image: blurry picture of proposed district energy system taken from blurry slide attached to meeting agenda.