Centra Gas has announced that it is putting on hold its plans to build a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler. Centra Gas recently completed a feasibility analysis of the proposed pipeline, which indicated that customers in Whistler could end up paying up to 34 per cent more over the next 15 years for natural gas, than they do today for propane. "Based on new design and routing requirements, the cost of the natural gas pipeline has increased from its original estimates," said Brian Kemble, vice president of Centra Gas technical services. "The increased costs of the natural gas pipeline, coupled with current propane prices, which are at historic lows, makes the economics of a natural gas pipeline to Whistler unjustified." Centra now plans to maximize capacity on existing propane facilities to accommodate growth through 2000. This will entail installation of distribution looping, two storage tanks, a third off-loading tower at the Green lakes site and a vapour return line between Green Lakes and Nesters. "This is the most prudent course of action at this time," said Kemble. "It ensures that today’s customers have a secure and economical energy supply." Centra says that by maximizing the existing propane system, over the next 15 years customer rates will increase by approximately nine per cent from current rates. Kemble said this strategy also allows for an opportunity to re-evaluate the proposed natural gas pipeline project, should propane prices rise again, if a means to reduce pipeline construction costs is found, or if demand for propane grows more quickly than anticipated. However, expanding Whistler’s propane system to accommodate growth beyond 2000 would result in an approximate 26 per cent increase from today’s customer rates over the next 15 years. "With this rate forecast, it would be difficult to sell propane as a long-term economical energy source," said Kemble. "Energy needs beyond 2000 may have to be served by alternative energy sources, such as electricity or bottled propane." Alternatively, beyond 2000 a natural gas pipeline may once again prove to be economically feasible. What Centra’s plans may do in the long run is force Whistler to become more efficient in its energy use. With propane prices at historic lows there is little incentive for a community energy plan, but that may change, particularly after the municipality adopts its environmental strategy. Centra Gas is planning a public information session in Whistler to discuss the results of its feasibility analysis and its decision not to pursue approval for a natural gas pipeline or a long-term propane expansion.