Centra plans to build pipeline 

Centra Gas plans to bring natural gas to Whistler via a pipeline from Squamish by November, 2003 – provided construction can be co-ordinated with the Ministry of Highways’ road upgrade in the Culliton Creek region.

Paul Madsen, manager of business development for Centra, outlined the plan to Whistler council Monday. Madsen said demand for energy in Whistler is forecast to continue to increase until about 2003, when buildout is expected to be reached.

Many of Whistler’s hotels and residences currently use propane to fuel their heating systems, most of which is brought to Whistler via railway tank cars. Propane is stored in 11 30,000 US gallon tanks at Nesters and two tanks of the same size at Function Junction.

Centra’s demand forecast shows there is adequate storage capacity for the 2000-01 season but not beyond. Two more 30,000 US gallon tanks will be added to the Function Junction site this summer to meet next winter’s demands but Whistler has made it clear it does not want any further expansion of propane storage sites.

Centra has been looking at building a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler for several years but has said the cost – previous estimates were $30 million – was prohibitive. Instead, Centra added five tanks to the Nesters site in 1999 to increase storage capacity and last summer expanded the size of the line from the Function Junction tanks to the village grid.

Madsen said Monday the cost of the pipeline still needs to be reduced by $5 million, but this can be done by co-ordinating work with the Ministry of Transportation and Highways during its Culliton Creek upgrade and by other alignment modifications.

The 49 kilometre route outlined by Madsen largely follows Highway 99 but includes 7 kilometres of new clearing which could become part of the Squamish-Whistler bike trail. Whistler had been pushing for Centra to build the entire pipeline away from the highway so it could become a continuous bike trail. Centra said that would add about $12 million to the cost of the line and made it uneconomical.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways said they have worked with Centra on co-ordinating work between Culliton Creek and the Cheakamus Canyon, but Highways won’t know for another couple of weeks whether money has been allocated in the provincial budget for work to begin this summer.

Dan Mayberry said design work has been completed for the highway upgrade and ministry staff hope to do preparation work this summer. He said the upgrade, which will see four lanes through most of the 5.5 kilometre section, is a three-year project. If preparation work is included in this year’s budget the project would require two more summers of actual construction.

"It involves twinning the Culliton bridge and a lot of rock blasting," Mayberry said.

Once Centra builds the pipeline the storage tanks at Function Junction and Nesters will be removed. The Function Junction site would become the terminus for the pipeline, while there are no plans for the Nesters site.

Madsen said prices for natural gas are expected to stabilize and then come down somewhat in the next two years, making natural gas prices competitive with electricity. He added the demand for natural gas is not expected to drop in the next two years but increased pipeline capacity in B.C. and throughout much of North America, as well as new supplies of gas, will help bring down the price.

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