Centra Gas is taking a second look at demand-side management as a strategy to reduce peak propane usage and allow growth.
In February the company hosted a public meeting in Whistler to hear what the community and stakeholders had to say about a recent report in which Centra Gas had outlined its expansion options.
What the company heard was that many wanted a more thorough investigation of demand-side management before considering building a new tank farm in Function Junction or a pipeline from Squamish.
"We did talk about this five years ago when we were first looking at options in 1997/98," said Paul Madsen, project manager for the Whistler expansion.
"But at that time there didnt appear to be the same interest in those types of programs. I think with the Natural Step and the profile it has had in the community more recently there is more interest now.
"It was one of the options that we had had on the table but we hadnt developed it as fully as some people had hoped."
Demand-side management refers to actions taken on the customer's side of the equation to change the amount or timing of energy consumption. Utility DSM programs offer a variety of measures that can reduce energy consumption and consumer energy expenses.
Now that the community has shown they want to know more about demand-side management Centra Gas will approach the B.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates the industry, and ask for permission to allocate resources on the investigation.
Before approaching the commission Madsen wants a community advisory group, now in place in the resort, to put forward suggestions to Centra Gas about which experts the company could approach to look at the issue and make recommendations for Whistler and what its terms of reference should be.
"We are not experts in demand-side management and so what I wanted to get was an idea of what would work in Whistler from the experts," said Madsen.
"There are a number of consulting firms either in Vancouver or in Western Canada and Ive asked the community advisory group that met with me for a list of folks they might have worked with who could help.
"That is where we are at right now."
Whats at issue is servicing the peak period for customers. If demand-side management can put in place measures to make sure peak times can be handled either through conservation measures, or shifting a customer from a piped propane system to some other means of energy supply at peak times, then it is a win-win situation for everyone.
"If we can reduce the peak we have no problem dealing with, and we will never have a problem dealing with, the average use on the system," said Madsen.
"Ideally what we would like to do is to reduce the spike of the peak but increase the average load and then we would be able to take on more customers."
Dave Waldron, sustainability advisor for the municipality, believes Centra Gass decision to investigate demand-side management is a good move.
"I see it as definitely a nice step in the right direction," he said.
"It is something the municipality has asked them to look into. It is something that a number of their major customers have asked them to look into and they are making, I would say, a big step forward.
"We are cautiously optimistic that this will turn into some real innovations in terms of how rooms are heated in this community. There are many more ways to heat a room than by just pumping more gas into the furnace."