Communities throughout Nova Scotia are eyeing the concept of “district energy systems” that would heat entire towns with biomass.

The initiative is being spearheaded by bioenergy consultant Jamie Stephen, who estimates the province could have $5 billion worth of biomass-fuelled district energy systems eligible for government infrastructure funding – funding that would cover most of the cost.

District energy systems designed with underground hot water pipes connecting central boilers to buildings are found in Northern Europe, and are prized as a source of green energy capable of heating entire cities.

Stephen recently moved from Ottawa to Mahone Bay, seeing opportunity in the shutdown of Northern Pulp – pulpwood and sawmill scraps once feeding the mill could instead fuel district energy systems across the province.

In an interview with Halifax Magazine, Stephen said that transformation could slash Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent, all while cutting out imports of fossil fuels for heat.

“Municipal-owned district energy just makes a lot of sense,” Stephen, founder and managing director of TorchLight Bioresources, told the magazine. “It allows you to utilize a local resource and creates a huge number of jobs. Over $1 billion a year could remain in-province to be spent on local wood fuel, rather than on importing oil, natural gas and coal.”