Fitzsimmons Creek powering community 

Run of river project just first step in WB’s commitment to zero-operating footprint

The Fitzsimmons Creek Renewable Energy Project is up and running on Whistler Blackcomb.

The project, commissioned prior to the Games, has been functioning since April. The weir, which has been built not to exceed the natural flood lines of the river, produces 32 gigawatt hours annually - equivalent to the power used by 3,000 to 4,000 homes. It also happens to be the same amount of energy as consumed by mountain operation every year.

"What we consume annually at Whistler Blackcomb is replaced back onto the grid by this project," said Arthur DeJong, Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager.

He said the power produced would be placed on the grid and used by the closest demand, meaning that the power will likely never leave the Whistler valley. The power produced by the weir represents only 10 per cent of the overall resort demand.

Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Limited Partnership, a partnership between Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. and Ledcor Power Group, owns the project. The power produced will be sold exclusively to BC Hydro under a 40-year agreement.

"(Whistler Blackcomb) did not go into this for financial interest whatsoever, clearly. We don't own it," DeJong said. "It's a greater good project in terms of mitigating climate change. All the energy that is produced in that river goes back on the grid for public consumption.

"If we can produce more green energy in one part of the country and share that power via our transmission lines, it can offset a thermal production plant somewhere else: a coal-fired, natural-gas-fired, electrical-energy plant," he said.

Whistler Blackcomb was deeply involved in the project's seven-year development process. DeJong said he wished Whistler Blackcomb or the community could own the project but the means simply aren't there.

"We're not experts in renewable energy, we're experts in operating lifts and purveyors of mountain recreation," he said, adding that Innergex and Ledcor have the means and the experience to operate this kind of operation.

This project is merely one step in creating a 100 per cent non-carbon-based operation, which DeJong said Whistler Blackcomb is absolutely committed to.

"Our mission at Whistler Blackcomb is to become a zero-operating footprint," he said.

That means no waste, no carbon, and no emissions. The end result will be all renewable energy sources, all the time, and they will "search and prod" every meaningful avenue to reach that goal.

Whistler Blackcomb has already decreased its waste output from 1,400 tonnes annually to 500 tonnes over the last 10 years, with the majority of those improvements done within the last two years, thanks to composting initiatives that DeJong said would not have been possible without the composting facility in the Callaghan Valley.

Eighty per cent of the mountain operation's waste comes from the food and beverage department.

He said they're also looking very seriously into wind farms on the mountains.

"We tried twice, we failed twice. We won't give up," he said.

Though they don't yet have the financing for such a project, he said Whistler Blackcomb would like to start with a small 90 to a 100 foot-tower - an "inoffensive size" deJong said - right outside of Crystal Hut on Blackcomb, which he said is a prime spot for wind power. That would provide meaningful data and help determine whether or not there's enough wind supply to support a bigger-scale, commercial-size wind farm in the area.

"It's also very important that the community knows that we're serious about this," he said. "The community needs to be very involved. Is it the right thing to do? There are aesthetic impacts.

"But obviously, if we're going to strive towards a non-carbon community society, we need to do these types of projects."

 

 

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