Gas pipeline under review 

Centra Gas wants to hear from Whistler on its expansion plans

Centra gas will hold public meetings in the New Year to canvass what the future needs of the community are likely to be.

Under discussion is the need for expansion.

The natural gas and propane provider is investigating whether it would be a good idea to lay a pipeline from Squamish to Whistler to bring natural gas to the resort.

It’s an idea that has been around for a while but with plans underway to upgrade the highway it seems now is the time to decide.

If the demand were there it would make sense for Centra to lay the line in conjunction with the Sea to Sky upgrade.

"We have been talking with highways," said Paul Madsen, project manager for the Whistler expansion.

"We’ve been exploring the idea that if Centra Gas Whistler decided to go ahead with a pipeline could we co-ordinate construction with the Ministry of Highways."

Before any of this happens though Centra wants to hear from locals to gauge what the need and demands will be in the short and long term.

For example, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, one of Centra’s biggest customers, is seriously considering switching to a geothermal exchange system as the main provider of heating and cooling for the hotel.

It has already received two reports on the system, both of which found it a viable option.

The idea, said Dan Wilson, the Chateau’s sustainability co-ordinator, would be to use geo exchange to replace four of six boilers run on propane and two electric chillers.

"The goal really is to reduce our dependency on propane," he said.

"Propane contributes to green house gases, which we understand partially explains some of the climate change issues.

"And it is just a waste. When we burn propane there is a lot of waste that goes out so again switching would minimize waste leaving our hotel."

Wilson said it would cost about $5 million for the system, which would pay for itself in about 10 years.

The hotel is also looking at an option to lease the infrastructure and pay a yearly fee. This is an attractive option said Wilson as is keeps the cost of the energy at a constant level for a significant number of years.

If the Chateau pursues the idea it would take up to four years to get it up and running.

These are the types of issues and plans Madsen hopes to discuss at the January meeting.

"If (the Chateau) decreased their demand from us then what it would do is weaken somewhat our argument that a pipeline is needed," he said.

"They are only one customer but they are, never-the-less, one of our largest customers so they do have a significant demand on the system.

"I’m not saying it is a bad thing but realistically if they reduce the amount of gas or propane they buy form us then there is less need for a significant investment like we would need for a pipeline.

"We would want to talk to them about what their plans are and what the economics of their plans are and what can we do to make sure we are competitive with the other options."

Madsen estimates a pipeline would cost around $30 million. That cost would have to be paid for by the customer.

Currently a household in Whistler uses about 200 gigajoules, each one of which costs $13.

If the pipeline were to be built energy costs initially could go up $5 a gigajoule.

However, said Madsen, the increase would not last and within several years the increased cost would fall to $2 a gigajoule.

"At this point it is probably fair to say we are looking for comments from customers on how any rate impact should be managed," said Madsen, who is working on a document outlining the various options for propane and gas provision.

Another option is to expand the propane system. Currently propane comes to Whistler by truck or train and is stored, then pumped out in a self-contained piping system to connected customers.

Madsen expects demand to continue until "build out." At that time growth will slow but since not every home is connected there will still be new customers coming on board.

"In general, the people who are using propane or natural gas are using it because it does a certain thing for them," said Madsen.

"It is quick and they like to be able to turn their fireplace on when they want to.

"What we need to determine now is how best to serve those customers in the future.

"We hope to get those discussions going at the meeting in January."

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