W-B presses for Fitzsimmons power project 

New route between creek and sliding centre under investigation by engineers

Whistler-Blackcomb is still determined to see a small hydroelectric power project in the heart of their operations.

This week Arthur DeJong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager, confirmed that engineers are looking at yet another route for the Fitzsimmons Creek independent power project, which was forced to move because it was in the way of the Olympic bob/luge track and as such, posed security and safety concerns.

Despite that setback, Whistler-Blackcomb is plugging away at the project with the Vancouver-based development company Ledcor and the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the 2010 Games.

"The door is wide open," said DeJong. "We very much believe in the project. It's finding a way of making it happen."

The new route now under investigation would see the underground water pipe, or penstock, hug the bob/luge track in the tight and steep area between the creek and the track on the west side of Blackcomb Mountain.

"There have been a few discussions recently with Ledcor, again to explore ways that could integrate that project and the whole sliding track," said VANOC Spokesperson Sam Corea, adding that they are still at the exploratory stages.

This route came back on the radar screen after investigation on the eastside of the track proved to be economically unfeasible. Though the east-side route has not been completely ruled out at this time, the other side is now the focus.

DeJong recognizes the constraints of putting the project between the track and the creek.

"There's very little room between the luge track and the riverbank and of course, when you get close you're wrestling with slope stability so it becomes quite precise, down to feet, where you're safe and where you're not," said DeJong. "It's almost like a game of football, a game of inches and yards."

Whistler-Blackcomb is keen to move ahead if it is a feasible location even if Ledcor bows out of the project.

"If (Ledcor) felt it wasn't economically viable then we would look at obviously other means of keeping the project alive," said DeJong.

The Fitzsimmons power project would produce 32 megawatts of electricity annually, the same amount of power required by Whistler-Blackcomb operations every year.

"When I look at the Fitzsimmons, it's kind of like the aorta of energy opportunity right smack in the middle of the body of our ski area because you've got Whistler with almost 20 lifts on one side, and Blackcomb with almost 20 lifts on the other, and with our snowmaking system, the mother feed for water is out of the Fitzsimmons," he said. "And… to date… (it's) the only economic means we have of a successful green energy project."

Like the Rutherford Creek project before it, the Fitzsimmons Creek run of river project would work by removing water upstream (in this case at Little Spearhead bridge), funneling it into a steep underground pipe (called the penstock) and the channeling it into turbines in a power station at the Blackcomb Works Yard. The water then goes back into the creek.

The electricity produced would go into B.C. Hydro’s power grid, rather than power anything in Whistler.

Run-of-river projects are considered "green" energy projects in part because they are renewable and do not burn fossil fuels to make energy.

That being said, run-of-river projects have come under attack in the Sea to Sky corridor because of the plethora of applications on local streams. Some stakeholders have been calling for an overall plan for the corridor before moving ahead with future projects.

That's what Stuart Smith, river impacts co-ordinator with the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C., believes should happen before the Fitzsimmons Creek power project moves ahead.

"I think that's the prudent thing to do with all of these things," he said.

But there are other time constraints to consider said DeJong.

"We would like to see it sooner than later because if it can be built before and in concert with the first phases of construction of the luge, there's lots of opportunities there for cost savings and just practical construction," he said.

Land clearing for the $55 million Whistler Sliding Centre is set to begin this spring and the project will go to tender this summer.

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