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Natural gas pipeline best option for Whistler

Final decision on Squamish-Whistler pipeline won’t be made until end of year



There are still a few hurdles to clear for Terasen Gas before the utility’s future plans for Whistler become clear.

Whistler council currently supports the development of a natural gas pipeline to the resort, and is opposed to any further expansion of the company’s propane storage facilities in the resort.

Terasen also supports the natural gas option, although the company still has to make its case to the B.C. Utilities Commission. According to Dean Pelkey, the media relations manager for Terasen, the company hopes to file a resource plan with the BCUC sometime in August. A feasibility study should be completed by the end of this year.

"We basically have to make a case for the utilities commission, that’s what the resource plan is," said Pelkey. "We have to show what the needs are for the community, and what the options are to meet those needs. If there is going to be a rate increase, the commission has to give us that blessing for that as well, being the regulatory body for the province.

"Any project where there are capital costs involved, (the BCUC) has to approve us taking on those additional costs because that has to be paid for somewhere via the usual rate base. That’s something we’ll look at with the B.C. Utilities Commission – how does (the capital cost) get paid, is it assigned solely to the residents of Whistler or is it something that’s paid for by our overall rate base?"

Some other options that will be included in the resource plan are keeping the status quo and hoping that demand can be managed; expanding the existing facilities, which previous councils have rejected; shipping natural gas to Whistler instead of propane by rail and the highway; building storage facilities outside of Whistler and piping the gas in.

"All options are being looked at, and we will make a comparison in each case, what it costs, what the benefits are, what the limitations are, that kind of thing," said Pelkey.

"Based on our own assessments, and consultations with stakeholders, the natural gas (pipeline) is the best option at this point."

The pipeline would stretch 53 kilometres from Squamish to Whistler and would cost an estimated $40 million to build. Customers may have to pay to convert their appliances from propane to work with natural gas, but the utility plans to ensure that any future rate increases will remain competitive with electricity.

Terasen Gas may also be able to recoup some of their costs by selling off two lots in Whistler where propane is currently stored and which will no longer be needed if the natural gas pipeline is approved. They could also share the cost of the pipeline with Telus, which could use the same ditches to lay their cables.

Although construction on the Sea to Sky Highway between Squamish and Whistler is already underway, and some sections have been completed, most of the pipeline project would take place in concert with highway construction.

"Obviously the planning of this is looking pretty good right now with a great deal of construction on the highway," said Pelkey.

"The proposed timeline on the pipline project will be well co-ordinated with the (Ministry of Transportation), which will mean construction in 2007. The first gas could start flowing for the winter of 2007-2008."

Rob Pellatt, the secretary of the BCUC, says they will have to weigh the options and approve the plan before it can go ahead.

"We would have to approve anything, any project apart from the existing propane distribution system," said Pellatt.

The BCUC is mandated to protect the public interest as well as to regulate the industry, and will look closely at the costs associated with different options before making a decision.

"Any application has to include plans how they expect to recover their costs if it’s required to do a rate increase or a fee," he added.

Pelkey says the resource plan will be made public after it is submitted this month, as required by the BCUC.

"We’ll be able to make our recommendations on what the best alternative is to Whistler," he said.