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Natural gas proposal moves forward

Low-flow system connecting Whistler to Squamish natural gas pipeline could be approved within six months



After years of discussions with the Resort Municipality of Whistler and other stakeholders, Terasen Gas has finalized its proposal to convert Whistler from propane to natural gas, while replacing the current propane tank storage and delivery system with a natural gas pipeline.

On Dec. 12 Terasen submitted a 2005 Resource Plan to the B.C. Utilities Commission that provides an assessment of Whistler’s current and future energy needs, and concludes that there is an economic and environmental basis for converting the system to natural gas. The company followed up on Dec. 16 with their application for the permits that would allow them to build the system.

The next step, according to Dietz Kellman, director of corporate development for Terasen, is to approve interveners for the project – stakeholders who wish to be involved in the review process – for the first procedural conference on Jan. 17. The deadline to for people to apply as interveners is this Friday, Jan. 13.

Public hearings on the pipeline could take place as early as March or April, and Terasen could have the BCUC’s approval by May or June. If that’s the case construction would start in 2006, in concert with Sea to Sky Highway construction, and would be completed by 2008.

"We can’t be too specific, but we definitely see (the application) resolved within the next six months or less," said Kellman.

Terasen’s natural gas proposals have gone through a lot of changes in the last few years, most recently when the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Resort Municipality of Whistler to pursue a sustainable energy strategy. Among other things the sustainable energy strategy, which is included in the overall Whistler 2020 strategy, calls for the creation of a district-based ground source heat pump system in Whistler Village.

Because of the emphasis on conservation and alternative energy and fuels, Terasen abandoned an earlier proposal to build a high-capacity system. With its existing customer base, and the likelihood that some vehicle fleets will convert to natural gas, it still made economic sense to propose a low-flow system.

"The plan shows that it makes sense to convert the village from propane to natural gas, and not just for economic reasons but also because of the greenhouse gas benefits," said Kellman. "Natural gas has 15 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions than propane… and we can get it delivered for less than propane.

"It also facilitates the transition to cleaner transportation by converting diesel and gasoline fleets to natural gas."

The estimated cost of building the pipeline is $37 million, and it will cost an estimated $5.5 million to convert propane customers and appliances to natural gas. Those costs will be passed on to customers, but because natural gas is typically $3 to $5 cheaper per gigajoule when compared to propane, customer costs will be "competitive".

"The new application is really about meeting the existing load, and some load growth due to transportation… but it’s a real change from how we previously looked at the project," said Kellman. "The low flow pipeline is cheaper, and will be easier to build. The prior pipeline system would have involved a lot of blasting and stuff like that because a lot of it wouldn’t follow the highway right-of-way but run adjacent to it. Because the system we’re proposing now is low pressure, we’re able to put it into the shoulder of the highway."