The decision on whether to build a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler is expected within the next few weeks with the completion of a comprehensive review of supply and demand in the community. The review is expected to be completed by April, and will be made available to the public shortly afterwards.
Terasen Gas (the new name of Centra Gas owner B.C. Gas) has been considering the pipeline project on and off since the first feasibility plan was tabled and shelved in 1999.
The higher cost of natural gas, the cost of building the pipeline infrastructure, and the cost and logistics of retrofitting every propane fixture in Whistler were among the issues considered when the first feasibility study was done and the idea shelved.
Although costs are still high, the limiting factor in 2004 is capacity. The number of hotel rooms and houses in Whistler has increased, putting more pressure on the companys reserve propane tanks at Nesters and at Function Junction, which are filled by trains and trucks.
Demand for gas was expected to outstrip the supply within the next year at current growth rates, but Whistler council said it would not approve the expansion of the existing sites or the addition of new sites within municipal boundaries.
Terasen already serves more than 2,200 customers in Whistler. New developments, like the Four Seasons, will place even more of a burden on supplies.
"Right now its still under review as far as what our long-term energy plan is going to be, and for the last couple of months weve been waiting for our internal report to be completed," said Wayne Cankovic, the operations manager for Terasen in Whistler. "One of the components of that is our long-term demand forecast.
"The good thing is that we had some cold weather this year during a busy time, so that helps, it tells us where we are with our capacity. We really havent had a chance in the past five or six years, its been so warm all winter.
"Finally we had some good cold weather which helped our engineers to dial in what our capacity actually is with our existing facility."
If the pipeline project appears feasible, Terasen will work with the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that the pipeline construction takes place in concert with the expansion and upgrades to Highway 99, to reduce cost.
Although the pipeline or an expansion of facilities should be necessary to meet the growing number of gas fixtures, the company is also looking into initiatives that could improve efficiency and reduce demand.
For example the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is looking into installing a geothermal exchange system that would reduce their reliance on propane significantly.
As a result of these demand side management initiatives, the daily consumption of propane could be reduced significantly to allow the utility to keep meeting its customers needs. How the company handles times of peak demand, such as holidays and cold snaps, are the real issue according to Cankovic.
As a result the final pipeline decision could largely depend on how well Terasen handled Whistlers cold snap in early January.
"Hopefully in the next three to four weeks (the review) will be brought out to the stakeholders in Whistler, as far as what our options are and what proposal will be going forward," said Cankovic.