Million dollar energy upgrades planned for Meadow Park 

RMOW spends money to save in the long run as GHG emissions slashed

The municipality is spending more than $1 million to make the Meadow Park Sports Centre (MPSC) more energy efficient.

It is the largest, and most expensive energy conservation retrofit of a municipal building to date.

The project - to install solar panels and a geothermal exchange  - will not only reduce Whistler's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but also save money for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) over time.

"It's a very strong business case," said Ted Battiston, strategic emissions and energy manager for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

Outlining the business case this week, Battiston explained that the annual energy bill at the sports centre is $220,000.

The solar panels and geoexchange could reduce that bill by $175,000 to $200,000 a year.

At the same time, the centre's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be reduced by 60 to 75 per cent. The sports centre consumes more energy and creates more GHG emissions than any other single RMOW building - 400 tonnes of the 2,200 tonnes created by all other municipal operations.

"Community pools are large sources of energy draws," explained Battiston.

"That's why we're spending so much time on making sure we do this well."

That GHG reduction is the equivalent of taking 90 passenger vehicles off the road each year.

Both technologies will do essentially do the same thing at the sports complex - pre-heating the water that goes into the pools and the hot tub.

Right now very cold water goes into the building and is heated by propane boilers. The upgrades will use the sun and the earth to heat the water and the boilers will only be used to top up when needed.

"The notion is that the boilers will be used very infrequently," said Battiston.

"(The energy demands) will be met with the renewable sources first and then topped up with the boilers."

And, he assured, swimmers will never know the difference.

The $1 million project comes on the heels of more than $77,000 spent on conservation investments at the sports complex last year. Those investments included new fluorescent lighting throughout the building and occupancy sensors, which turn off the lights when there is no one in the rooms.

More than $20,000 in savings came from B.C. Hydro rebates for those conservation measures and, the changes are expected to save roughly $13,000 in utility bills every year. That means the capital investment will be paid back within five years.

Likewise Battiston is expecting to receive almost $200,000 in external funding for the $1 million solar and geoexchange project. With annual savings in the $200,000 range, the simple payback on the project is estimated at about four years.

The $1 million will come from general funds at municipal hall. It is part of a $50 million capital projects budget in 2009 (with $10 million of that expected to come from external funding).

The project is also in keeping with Whistler's commitment to sustainability.

In 2007 the RMOW was one of scores of communities across B.C. to sign onto a Climate Action Charter with the province and the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).

That committed Whistler to a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2012 by reducing emissions where possible, by purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for emissions or developing projects to offset emissions.

"We want to make reductions before we have to buy offsets," said Battiston.

This reduction in 400 tonnes of GHG emissions will save Whistler approximately $9,000 in 2012.

Though the municipal GHG emissions are just a fraction of the overall community's emissions (2,200 tonnes of roughly 125,000 tonnes collectively), it's the message that's critical.

Battiston said: "What we're doing is important from a leadership perspective."

Staff will be choosing a team to do the detailed design and installation services. A report is expected to come before council at the first meeting in July.

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