Million-dollar upgrade to save money 

Forsyth, Milner uneasy over cost of geothermal retrofit for Meadow Park

Not all Whistler council members are convinced that now is the time to make Meadow Park Sports Centre more energy efficient.

Both Councillor Ted Milner and Ralph Forsyth said during Tuesday night's council meeting they want more information about the municipality's proposed geothermal upgrade before shelling out almost $1 million on equipment.

Forsyth said he was uncomfortable that staff members were not able to answer several of his questions during the public meeting, including how much it will cost the municipality per year to maintain the upgrades.

Milner, who shared Fosyth's concerns, added: "I think the truth is we can't all buy a new car every year."

"We may want to, but sometimes we have to wait a year or two, and I think this is a time to concentrate on our Olympic efforts."

The $931,000 geothermal retrofit project, which will be done by Keith Plumbing and Heating, will heat water through a combination of solar panels and a geothermal exchange.

Specifically, a series of holes will be drilled into the nearby parking lot. Solar panels will then power several pumps that will draw heat out of the ground. The collected heat will be used to warm the sport centre's water.

During the Tuesday meeting, general manager Bob MacPherson said Meadow Park Sports Centre is currently the most expensive building for the municipality to heat. It is also the municipality's highest emitter of carbon dioxide.

"There is an opportunity to save money, a lot of money, and work towards our community commitments," said MacPherson.

MacPherson estimates the geothermal addition will save the municipality about $115,000 to $140,000 a year in heating costs. And he predicted the capital costs will be paid off in seven years.

The money for the upgrade is accounted for in the municipality's 2009 budget.

Despite Milner's and Forsyth's concerns, the rest of council voted to go ahead with the geothermal upgrade Tuesday, but not before talking at length about the pros and cons.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler said the decision was a "no brainer," and called the value of the upgrade equivalent to a 12 per cent investment.

Mayor Ken Melamed also spoke highly of the proposal, saying: "This really achieves that goal within our budgets."

The mayor reminded other councillors that energy may not be cheap in the future and that this upgrade will be a "gift that keeps on giving."

The installation should be complete by December 2009. After the new system is in place, however, Meadow Park's old heat sources will remain hooked up to the building in case they are ever needed again.

The municipality also hopes to bring the capital cost of the project down to $900,000 by applying for rebates with the federal government's EcoEnergy program and the provincial government's SolarBC program. 


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