The kick-off for UNBC’s 25th anniversary celebrations occurred on Sept 2 and coincided with orientation for hundreds of first-year students. The events of the day have been captured in the news and on various social media channels, but now, one week after the festivities, it’s easy to see that the kick-off also inspired feelings of pride from people with various associations with UNBC. The Citizen published an editorial, a local CBC radio personality wrote a blog post (both authors are UNBC alumni), and long-time faculty member Todd Whitcombe penned a sincere op-ed, and they have served to magnify the atmosphere that was felt on campus that day. As a “UNBC old-timer,” it was gratifying to see new students truly interacting with people whose association with UNBC is much older than the students themselves.
It’s exactly why one of the themes for the 25th anniversary is energy. There was a real feeling of energy at the University last week, and many commented that they had never witnessed anything quite like it at UNBC. I was on campus the day the Queen visited in 1994. I’ll never forget it, but it has been great to see that level of energy resurrected many times over the years: the annual graduation ceremonies, the start of the medical program in 2004, the opening of the sport centre in 2007, and the visit from Rick Mercer a couple of years ago. Last Tuesday was one of those days.
Last Tuesday also marked the start of a new energy project that will foster the evolution of UNBC as a model for northern and remote communities. The Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project (SCDP) will connect UNBC’s bioenergy systems – especially the wood pellet system – to the residences, daycare, and the I.K. Barber Enhanced Forestry Lab. The initial phase will be a district energy system that will circulate on hot water, just like the rest of the core campus buildings. But, unlike the rest of the campus, the new SCDP will deliver heat at a lower temperature, serving as a more effective platform for demonstrating multiple renewable energy technologies, including bioenergy, that may be appropriate for deployment in rural communities. Currently, hundreds of communities across Canada burn diesel or propane to meet their energy needs.
The initial funding partners – the Government of BC, TransCanada Corporation, the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition, and the BC Bioenergy Network – announced their participation last week and local wood pellet manufacturer, Pacific BioEnergy, announced their commitment to continue donating wood pellets for the expanded system.
Many communities and businesses care about this project. So do many employees and students. One of them spoke at the announcement. Titi Kunkel is a UNBC graduate and recently defended her PhD dissertation about the relationship between local, renewable energy and the development of Aboriginal communities. When I asked her to describe her interest in the SCDP and its value, she initially responded that it would take a 15-page paper…or two! Titi lives in Quesnel and did her research with 15 First Nations communities in the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions of BC. She’s convinced that rural and remote regions should use their vast, adjacent natural resources to generate energy that will foster their continued sustainability and that the SCDP will help show the way.
It will start on the Prince George campus, and the trailblazers will be the students in residence who will be the first beneficiaries of the new SCDP. They won’t actually feel any difference, except the pride – maybe the “energy” – of being associated with something important for communities across Canada.