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Feeling the heat

Squamish sets sites on district energy systems



It was early March, and Sabina FooFat was tracing her fingers along an aerial photo of Squamish, pausing here and there to tap one of the district's abundant brownfield sites. A planner with the district, FooFat is in charge of tooling the municipality’s energy plan, part of which envisions those parcels of scorched earth redeveloped with energy-efficient infrastructure.

“It’s crazy to think of buildings built 20 years ago that had baseboard heaters below windows,” she said, face bewildered by the carefree ignorance of yesteryears.

A month later, Squamish Councillor Patricia Heinzman struck a similar note. “What we’re trying to do is discourage the worst type of energy, which is baseboard heaters. The goal is to raise the bar way higher, and learn for the future in terms of how we’re trying to build these homes in Squamish.”

Discouragement comes in the form of a district energy system. In this sense, the word district doesn’t apply to District of Squamish, but rather a group of buildings energized by the same system. Using a network of subterranean pipes and boilers, district energy systems circulate hot water to heat buildings plugged into the system.

FooFat and Heinzman, along with Brent Leigh of the Squamish Sustainability Corporation, took a tour through North Vancouver and Vancouver recently, stopping along the way to visit infrastructure built by those communities.

“The North Van one is sort of the guinea pig, and it started things,” said Heinzman. “We can learn from these other entities. That’s the beauty.”

For North Vancouver, it all started in 1998 with a feasibility study for Lower Lonsdale, Versatile Pacific and Central Lonsdale. Three years later, the municipality leveraged $20,000 in funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to conduct further study into mini energy plants in Lower Lonsdale and Versatile Pacific. Successful studies produced another $4 million in green grants from FCM, money used to fund the creation, design and operation of a district system.

The Lonsdale Energy Corporation emerged from that backdrop. The company uses gas-fired condensing boilers able to provide about 900 kilowatts of energy. There are three plants on the go, each with about 15 boilers able to service 10 buildings.

“The other thing with North Van is their gas rate is on a daily variable rate,” said Heinzman, “so they can check it on a given day, and, if gas prices go up, they can switch to solar power. Essentially, there are highly efficient ways of providing heat and energy for a subdivision.”

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