‘Waste Heat’ powered neighbourhoods? 

By Ted Battiston

Whistler2020 Team

Like many resort communities that rely on winter tourism, Whistler has a strong interest in mitigating climate change. Further, we’ve all heard the widespread warnings that climate change is one of the most critical issues facing society today. Given our desire to keep the mountains covered with the deep white stuff for five months a year, anything we can do to decrease Whistler’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) — a major contributor to climate change — is likely a good thing.

The Whistler2020 Energy Task Force, which is made of up of concerned and knowledgeable community and energy stakeholders, envisions an energy system for the year 2020 that is reliable, flexible and moving toward our sustainability objectives . Among other goals, Whistler’s energy system is maximizing economic opportunities, transitioning to renewable energy sources , and is continuously reducing its emissions and wastes into air, land and water.

Yet Whistler has a pretty average track record on this issue — the chart below shows that our total GHG emissions fell slightly from the very busy 2001 season, but emissions per population equivalent (which includes community members and visitors) has become marginally worse since that 2002 drop.

So… how exactly are we going to move from today’s situation to achieve our vision? Well, part of the work of the Whistler2020 task forces is to help come up with solutions. Among other actions, the energy task force recommended advancing a proposed ‘Sustainable Energy Plan’ and getting to work on establishing a local energy utility in association with the development of the athletes’ village and legacy neighbourhood in the lower Cheakamus.

The municipality was considering a proposal for a high-volume natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler that was premised on continually increasing the use of natural gas until the year 2050. The proposal was rejected based on an assessment of sustainability objectives. A new proposal, which embraced renewable energy sources, was then developed.

The new proposal still includes a natural gas pipeline to provide fossil fuel energy as we prepare to transition to renewable sources. However, the pipeline will be lower volume than originally planned, and therefore also lower cost, which means we can invest this capital into other innovative solutions that move toward the vision.

The first phase of the Sustainable Energy Plan involves the development of an innovative district energy system for the athletes’ village and associated legacy neighbourhood. This system will draw energy from local, renewable sources. The primary energy source will be waste heat from the sewage treatment plant; the secondary source will be a cogeneration system powered by landfill gas.

The district energy system will provide approximately 95 per cent of the space and water heating for the neighbourhood. It is estimated to reduce GHG emissions by 60 per cent compared to using standard baseboard electric heating and by 70 per cent compared to natural gas for space and water heating. Moreover, the financial feasibility assessments show that the project as planned is net present value positive — in other words, this project pencils!

In terms of your own home, space and water heating typically represents about 65 per cent of the energy used, totaling approximately $350 in annual utility bills and roughly 2,500kg of GHG emissions for most of us.

Led by the RMOW’s engineering department, and supported by Terasen and the development corporation for the athletes’ village, this legacy neighbourhood project is the first innovative step in the bigger plan of developing a renewable-energy (ground source heat pump-based) district energy system for the entire Whistler Village core.

Projects like this represent significant steps in heeding the climate change warning and putting tangible solutions on the ground — making smarter decisions for the short and long term.

Many thanks to the all community groups, businesses and individuals that are helping to make Whistler a sustainable and successful community, and specific thanks to the Whistler2020 Energy Task Force and the implementing organizations that are working to make this recommended action a reality. Thanks also to Ziptrek Ecotours for presenting Al Gore’s documentary on climate change called “An Inconvenient Truth” at Millennium Place last week.

To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward a more sustainable future visit: www.whistler2020.ca , To suggest a story idea, get involved with the Whistler2020 task force process, or to suggest actions for consideration, email whistler2020@whistler.ca

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