Dalhousie converts to natural gas

Dalhousie University is lighting the way to sustainable practices by switching to natural gas heating.

The switch came after the Nova Scotia Government implemented a regulation stating sulfur emissions must be reduced by 25% from 2001 levels.

A fuel truck of Bunker C (Clark Jang Photo)
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Office of Sustainability
College of Sustainability
NS Department of Energy
Heritage Gas
Dal Sustainability Plan

By Clark Jang

Dalhousie University is lighting the way to sustainable practices by switching to natural gas heating.

The switch came after the Nova Scotia Government implemented a regulation stating sulfur emissions must be reduced by 25 per cent from 2001 levels.

“The only way we could really do that was by switching to natural gas,” says Darrell Boutilier, Director of Operations of Facilities Management.

Dalhousie partnered with Heritage Gas to implement the switch. Planning began in January 2010. The central heating plan was finished by November. The total cost of switching to natural gas was approximately $1.8 million, 75 per cent of which was provided by the provincial governments’ Gas Market Development Fund.

The Director of Facilities at Dal, Darrell Boutilier, says by switching to natural gas,  greenhouse emissions will be reduced by 12,000 tons annually, the equivalent of taking 2,400 vehicles off the road.

Bunker C, the fuel Dalhousie previously ran on, creates a lot of soot after being burned.

“For our neighbours, when you’re burning Bunker C with a heavy fuel oil you get a lot of residual sooting and particulate in the air. Unlike Bunker C, the residue of natural gas is water and carbon dioxide, which is a cleaner alternative,” says Boutilier.

Rochelle Owen, Director of the Office of Sustainability, says the change has the net benefit of reducing emissions while saving money.

“In terms of inputs and outputs, it makes better use of our resources and puts less impact on the environment. You want to do things that maximize community benefits.”

The switch helps solidify Dalhousie’s reputation as a leader in sustainability. Last year Dalhousie created Canada’s first College of Sustainability. The environment, sustainability and society major, the first of its kind in Canada, emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary environmental issues.

The recently constructed Mona Campbell Building, on the corner of Coburg Road and Lemarchant Street, is another example of Dalhousie’s commitment to the environment. Some features include a heat pump to redistribute air throughout the building, toilets operating on rainwater collected from the roof and gutters, and high-efficiency lighting.

Boutilier says the switch to natural gas is just the beginning for Dalhousie.

Listen in as Boutilier explains what Dalhousie has in store to become more sustainable.

Darrell Boutilier Interview Clip

The new, 'green' Mona Campbell Building (Photo by Clark Jang)

While the environmental benefits of switching to natural gas outweigh those of Bunker C or heating oil, the initial cost of switching is the main deterrent for some homeowners.

“The initial cost is too high, and the price of natural gas will probably increase once it becomes more popular,” says Property Manager Leigh Nickerson.

Nickerson, who manages numerous houses around Dalhousie and St. Mary’s University, said all of his houses still operate on heating oil.

“It’s mostly the older houses which operate on heating oil. Despite the benefits, it isn’t cost effective for me.”

Despite the initial cost, companies like Heritage Gas offer incentives for residential and commercial customers to operate on natural gas.

“We’ve been seeing more activity lately, probably due to the differential between natural gas and other forms of heating,” says Heritage Gas employee Mike Howard.

While there is no difference in energy output between Bunker C and natural gas, the price differential in conjunction with the increased sustainability of natural gas made the switch a viable option.

“We haven’t saved any fuel useage. Whatever we used in Bunker C before we’re still using in natural gas. It’s just natural gas is 40% cheaper,” says Boutilier.

Gas prices tend to vary according to season.

“It’s supply and demand. The big demand is in the heating season when prices go up, and drop off in the summer time,” says Boutilier.

Owen believes switching to natural gas is a step in the right direction.

“Our vision is to move forward and be a leader in sustainability. The conversion to natural gas is not cutting-edge, but it’s a smart decision to make.”

Listen in as Owen describes additional ways in which Haligonians can be more environmentally conscious.

Owen Clip

Boutilier thinks in the long-term, the switch will be cost effective.

“It is saving considerable dollars and that trend should continue for many years. This will have a positive impact on the university finances which in turn should positively impact the students.”