Community District Energy

Village of Oujé-Bougoumou

Waste Wood Helps Fuel a Native Community's Development

Village of Oujé-Bougoumou
Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec, Canada

Woodchip District Heating System
Heating Capacity (output): One 1 MW (3.4 MMBt/hr) boiler and one 1.7 MW (5.8 MMBtu/hr) boiler
Emissions Reductin and Combustion Control Equipment: Multi-cyclone, moving grates
Year Installed: 1991
Thermal Output: Hot water
District Heating Network Length: 2.9km (1.8 miles)
District Heating Customers: 160

Village of Oujé-Bougoumou PDF

In the mid 1980s, people in the tiny Cree Nation community of Oujé-Bougoumou, in the James Bay region of Quebec, were reminded every time they drove their region's major highway of the stark contrast between their own values about resource use and the practices of the world around them.

On that highway stands a large sawmill that produces lumber for sale in the United States. As has long been common in Canada, the mill was then incinerating all of its wood waste in a large "beehive" burner that smoked away 24 hours a day, with giant mounds of sawdust piled outside waiting to be burned up.

For the Crees, "this meant taking only what is wanted for commercial reasons ... such a stark contract to the traditional aboriginal approach of harvesting only what is required for use and finding a use for all parts of any items harvested from the environment," according to the Oujé-Bougoumou community's website.

The beehive burner was a painful reminder of how natural resources were being used as local Cree communities struggled for survival, "isolated and marginalized from the economic and political life of the region."

In 1986, as the James Bay Cree began an assertive push for government help to improve their economy and living conditions, the Oujé-Bougoumou community started to discuss the idea of generating its own heat through a district system fueled through biomass fuel—such as sawmill waste. A number of Scandinavian communities were already doing this, local leaders had learned. But when an engineering firm the community had worked with was asked to do a pre-feasibility study, it said such a system would be far too expensive.

The Cree were not convinced.

The community approached the federal Energy Research Laboratory, then part of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (now the CANMET Energy Technology Centre, within Natural Resources Canada), which had helped Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island develop its downtown biomass district heating system. The lab staff did a new study that urged the community to move forward, and its department shared with Oujé-Bougoumou the costs of a full feasibility study.

The study projected that, if Oujé-Bougoumou installed a biomass district heating system, it could create new jobs, keep more money in the community, gain more control over its energy costs, and reduce those costs over the long term.

In 1991 the community began to build a district heating system, fueled by wastewood in a one thermal MW (3.4 MMBtu/hour) biomass boiler and a one MW backup oil boiler.

"The district heating system was created at the same time that the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation built a new permanent village from the ground up," says Heating Communities with Renewable Fuels, a 1999 "Municipal Guide to Biomass District Energy" co-published by CANMET and Vermont's Community Renewable Energy (CORE) program.

"By the 1980s, community members had been scattered throughout their traditional territory after being displaced during 50 years of exploration and development by the mining industry," the guide says. "Agreements with the Province of Quebec in 1989 and the Federal Government in 1992 resulted in a financial settlement that made possible the construction of the new village."

As the community and its heating needs grew, Oujé-Bougoumou added a second biomass boiler in 1998, with 1.7 MW (5.8 MMBtu/hour) capacity. Total cost of the project was $46 million Canadian ($42.5 million US). The biomass boilers burn sawdust and other wood waste from the nearby mill, with the backup oil boiler supplementing the biomass system during peak hours.

Energy Savings Help to Build Houses

"Oujé-Bougoumou residents pay a fixed percentage of their income into a fund to cover the construction, operations, maintenance, and heating of their homes," the community says. Oujé-Bougoumou has used money that it has saved through the use of biomass fuel, combined with energy-efficient building design, to build additional houses. "Dollars which otherwise would leave the community to utility companies or to fuel suppliers are now captured locally and provide the capacity to finance future projects."

The district system serves 140 homes and 20 public buildings, using a distribution system with 2,300 meters (1.4 miles) of polyethylene piping and 600 meters (0.4 miles) of steel pipes. The community reported a 200-tonne reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions the first year, and continues to cut its production of nitrogen oxides by about 35 percent, or 160 kilograms (350 pounds), each year.

In 1993, Community District Heating Coordinator Duncan Varey estimated that Oujé-Bougoumou's cost of producing one thermal MW of heat from its biomass plant was just 7.96 percent of what it would cost to produce the same MW from oil, and 3.4 percent of what it would cost to produce that MW from electricity sold to it by HydroQuebec. The community estimated then that its system had cut individual home-heating bills by CA $150 per year.

The biomass system is completely automatic, from fuel feed to ash removal. A built-in telecommunications system allows for remote supervision and troubleshooting. The twin boilers can burn a range of waste wood, from bark to sawdust, from green to kiln-dried.

Today, "We the Oujé-Bougoumou Eenou (Cree for person) have a challenge to develop ways of using the forest resources which are in harmony with the environment and which will sustain our local economy indefinitely," the community's website says. "In the same way we are showing the world with our district heating system that it is possible to generate energy in such a way as to be in harmony with the environment, and with a view to contributing to the growth and development of our community, we now need to demonstrate that it is possible to do the same thing in the area of forestry."

Oujé-Bougoumou has won national and international recognition for its work on sustainability. Awards have included:

  • A 1995 Best Practices for Human Settlements designation by the Together Foundation and the UN Centre for Human Settlements
  • A 1995 "Global Citizen" award from the United Nations Association, honoring Oujé-Bougoumou for developing a community that is both environmentally and people-friendly
  • An invitation to exhibit at the 2000 World's Fair Expo2000 in Hannover, Germany, for exemplifying "the balancing of mankind, nature, and technology"