Looking at Whistlers future energy needs, Terasen Gas believes building a natural gas pipeline from Squamish is the best option for the company and its customers. If the B.C. Utilities Commission agrees with this assessment, Whistler could be piping in natural gas by the winter of 2007.
Terasen Gas submitted its Whistler Resource Plan to the B.C. Utilities Commission on Wednesday, outlining the companys case for building the pipeline.
"The B.C. Utilities Commission is aware of the opportunity on the horizon, with the 2010 Games coming and all of the infrastructure thats needed, and they are aware of the cost benefits of tying this project to the construction of the Sea to Sky Highway," said Dean Pelkey, the Media Relations Manager for Terasen Gas.
"It comes down to the question of how do we do this in the most economic fashion, and obviously the timeframe is part of that."
The resource plan also looks at other alternatives to the pipeline, including the expansion of propane storage facilities and shipping in natural gas. Maintaining the status quo is impossible, with demand increasing and Whistlers propane infrastructure reaching capacity this fall. Terasen Gas Whistler needs to keep a minimum four-day supply of gas at its facilities in Nesters and Function Junction to meet demands, and will likely fall below that at times this winter.
The RMOW said several years ago that it will not allow the expansion of propane storage sites within municipal boundaries. Whistler councils have also said they support the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
Although the pipeline has an estimated $43.9 million price tag it could be more cost-effective in the long run, by eliminating the need for storage yards, additional storage facilities, and regular propane or liquid natural gas shipments to Whistler.
Although market prices fluctuate, natural gas is also cheaper than propane per kilojoule, which would help to offset the capital costs of the project. The costs are already being kept down by the fact that construction of the pipeline will take place in concert with the upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway.
Although there is some room to reduce demand by using more efficient appliances, propane consumption in Whistler has grown by an average of 5.1 per cent a year since 1998. In addition, Whistlers Comprehensive Sustainability Plan may call for the creation of up to 7,400 bed units in the community, mostly employee-restricted units, above the current bed cap of 55,000, which would in turn create more energy demands.
In its Resource Plan, Terasen looked at four future scenarios for Whistler no new growth (Scenario A), additional employee beds (Scenario B), additional employee beds and sports facilities (Scenario C), and a combination of additional beds, sports facilities, and natural gas vehicles (Scenario D). In each scenario, the demand for fuel will continue to grow without the capacity to meet it.
If the B.C. Utilities Commission gives the pipeline the go-ahead, Terasen Gas will still need to temporarily increase their storage capabilities in Whistler, while reducing the overall demand, to make it to 2007. One idea being considered is to bring up a third train car filled with propane, which would be held at the rail siding until needed. Another is a temporary expansion of the Nesters site, with guarantees to the RMOW.
Reducing the demand is tougher, requiring more fuel efficient appliances and connections. Still, demand depends on the number of visitors to the resort, how often second homeowners use their properties, and the temperature the colder it is, the harder it will be to meet the demand.
Terasen Gas also consulted with B.C. Hydro and discovered that the electrical system in Whistler is also near its supply capacity for the area. As a result, electricity is not a viable alternative to gas if the pipeline is not approved.
A natural gas pipeline would also require less infrastructure in Whistler. The propane facility in Function Junction would likely be decommissioned first as the pipeline is introduced, and the facility in Nesters would be decommissioned once the entire municipality has been converted to natural gas.
On the ground level, that also means converting every single fireplace, oven, water heater, and other appliance that now runs on propane to run on natural gas.
"Theres a lot of work ahead of us, but everything that runs on propane can be converted to natural gas," said Pelkey.
There is no timeline for the B.C. Utilities Commission to approve the new pipeline, although they are aware of the highway construction timetables and Olympic timetables.
Facts and Figures:
Cost of pipeline option from Squamish to Whistler $43.9 million
Cost of developing propane storage facility south of Whistler $29.5 million
Whistlers current storage capacity 26,559 kilojoules, or enough to meet demand for four peak demand days.
Propane supplied to Whistler by train 95 per cent.
Propane supplied to Whistler by truck 5 per cent
Current capacity Approximately 6,700 kilojoules per day
Required capacity for 2008 between 7,400 and 8,500 kilojoules a day
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