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Centra Gas says expansion of Function Junction tank farm best option for future service

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A report released this week by Centra Gas concludes that the most affordable and efficient way to meet the gas needs of Whistler today and for the next few years is to expand the gas tank facility at Function Junction.

"What falls out of all this is that in order for us to remain competitive with electricity and even bottled propane we need to seek the lower cost way of satisfying the demand as we understand it," said Paul Madsen, project manager for the Whistler expansion.

"And the least cost and yet logistically possible way of doing it is to expand the Function Junction location."

Centra Gas said it must expand, as it will no longer be able to meet the needs of its customer by the 2004-05 heating season with current capacity.

Several options were investigated in the report, including pipeline/bike trail construction ($39 million), the development of satellite storage facilities ($1 million per tank), conversion to liquefied natural gas, new storage facility ($16.8 million), demand management, accepting no new customers after early 2003, and the expansion of the Function Junction site ($8.1 million).

There are already four storage tanks and a monitoring station in a fenced enclosure in Function Junction. It is likely Centra Gas would need to acquire adjacent land in order to complete the expansion in the industrial park.

Four years ago when Centra applied to expand its tank facility at Nesters the municipality only granted the go-ahead with the understanding that a demand management study would be completed and further expansion of gas provision would likely take the form of a pipeline for natural gas from Squamish.

Councillor Ken Melamed did not support the tank expansion at Nesters.

He has yet to meet with Centra Gas – a meeting is planned for next week – and read the company’s report but said: "All I can tell you is my feelings about expansion haven’t changed."

He was also disappointed at the demand management study done by Centra.

"The plan was superficial at best," he said.

"It wasn’t substantive.

"I haven’t seen any evidence that they have complied with that request in a meaningful manner."

This week’s report by Centra does touch on demand management stating: "This requires a fundamental shift in the way customers use energy in Whistler which may or may not occur."

Dan Wilson, the Fairmont Chateau’s sustainability co-ordinator was also disappointed by Centra’s failure to fully investigate demand management in its report.

"There is definitely lots of opportunity for that and the fact that (Centra) didn’t pay much attention to that is a little concerning," said Wilson.

"They said it was very hard to consider. But they considered the costs of everything else so I am surprised they didn’t pay more attention to the demand side knowing Whistler’s interest in it.

"One very simple thing is just to be more efficient. I know at our hotel we have had some proposals for retrofitting, which could reduce our yearly demand for propane by about 15 per cent.

"There is a lot of propane wastage I think in Whistler that can still be addressed."

The 29-page report is clear that the expansion of the Function Junction site is not set in stone.

Not only does Centra need to apply to the municipality for a development permit, it must convince the B.C. Utilities Commission that it is the right choice.

Centra Gas has been granted the exclusive rights to deliver propane to customers in Whistler. In return the company charges rates and earns a return on its investment in facilities that are set through a BCUC hosted process.

Madsen said if the public wants a pipeline then that is what they will go forward with.

"It would be viable as long as customers were willing to commit by contract for the long term to continue taking natural gas, because we wouldn’t want to build the system and then have the customers drop off the system and move to geothermal or something else," said Madsen.

"And they would have to be willing to accept the commensurate rate increase with that option.

"If we got the message that we absolutely want a pipeline and we will pay what it takes to get that, then that is fine.

"The customers pay for any and all capital investments that we make through their rates so that is why we try to find the least cost solution, because we know customers are going to end up paying for it in the end."

Centra Gas will be hosting a meeting at the Coast Hotel Feb. 26 to get public input into its plans. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

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