Centra Gas pulls plug on pipeline project … for now
Deadline pressure means propane for another winter
By Chris Woodall
Centra Gas found a devil in its details this week when it announced it is pulling its application to build a natural gas pipeline to Whistler from Squamish along Highway 99.
"We came to the conclusion that the details of getting the necessary approvals we needed meant we wouldn't be able to start construction in time for completion this year," says Wayne Cankovic, Centra Gas superintendent of customer service for Whistler.
The decision was made March 6 and first announced to registered "intervenors" in the application process, including Pique Newsmagazine, on the Monday. A news release went to other media outlets a day later.
"There is still some work to do to design the pipeline and get the alignment approvals," Cankovic says.
But the pipeline is coming.
"Centra Gas is committed to proceeding with this pipeline," Cankovic says. "We're by no means walking away from this project. We're stepping back to give the process more time to get the approvals lined up."
Why not build part of the pipeline this year and the rest in 1999?
Centra Gas felt that to continue the process to the point where the B.C. Utilities Commission could approve it would result in wasted money spent by some intervenors (interested parties) such as B.C. Hydro and B.C. Rail to send their experts to various workshops and public hearings.
"It was better to stop now," Cankovic says.
Centra gas knew it was pushing its deadlines to the limit. "We were under a tight schedule as it was," Cankovic affirms.
A committee of commercial customers had been working with Centra Gas to keep propane costs to a minimum.
"I think it's too bad," says Tim Wake, a member of the demand side management program team. "Certainly they were trying to beat the clock."
A public hearing had been set for Wednesday, March 11. If all went well there and Centra got approvals from the Highways Ministry later, a decision from the utilities commission was to be delivered April 6.
Construction had to start in May if it were to be done by September, leading to conversion of Whistler's propane customers to natural gas by mid-October.
With all the approvals settled this year, Cankovic says construction can start earlier in 1999 than it would have this year.
Once complete and hooked up, the cost of the pipeline will be passed on over several years to Whistler customers. Even with that, natural gas should be cheaper than propane, which can fluctuate wildly in price year to year.
One issue that was not a hurdle, according to Centra Gas, was Squamish council's opposition to the pipeline unless gas service to Brackendale and Garibaldi Highlands was provided.
Squamish's gas comes from a different provider: Squamish Gas Company. It has rights to provide gas to Brackendale and Garibaldi Highlands and will be the provider to connect them, but has yet to do so.
The Centra gas line to Whistler would pass through Squamish land and require District of Squamish approval, something Squamish council was reluctant to do until Brackendale and Garibaldi Highlands get gas service.
In the meantime, Centra has a date with the utilities commission to file a plan to deliver propane to its Whistler customers for the coming heating season.
At an information session last month, Centra said its propane facility was at capacity, yet 200 more customers were expected to need fuel by the start of winter 1998-99.
Centra has said it might have to spend at least $400,000 to hook up the additional customers to propane. Another $500,000 might be spent to increase capacity at its site north of Nesters Market.
How extra propane is stored and how much will actually be needed is being worked out now, Cankovic says, hinting that the amount and costs could be well below previous estimates.
"This year won't be a big volume year," Cankovic says of increases due to new customers.
"Last year we had the Delta Suites Hotel, the CP Hotel (Chateau Whistler) expansion, and the Pan Pacific Lodge" among other new large volume users, Cankovic says. "This year we have small residential loads coming on and two small hotels that won't have much gas requirement this year."
Costs to upgrade propane service to cover this winter will be passed on to customers, but what the rates will be won't be known until the number crunching is done, Cankovic says.
"In the short term we hope we'll incur the minimum, the absolute minimum, costs," Wake says.
The demand side management program is working "ever so slowly but surely" toward a wiser use of energy among commercial consumers, Wake says.
By becoming more efficient, the project hopes it can avoid capital costs to increase supply by developing smarter and more efficient uses of natural gas.
Some suggestions include improving the quality of appliances, increasing insulation, monitoring hot water use, and piping waste heat under outdoor stairs instead of using electric heat tracing to keep them ice-free, Wake says.
Other members of the project include AWARE, the Chateau Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.