Squamish planner Sabina FooFat secured the enthusiastic support of newly elected councillors for her work on the district’s Community Energy Action Plan (CEAP) this week, a move that will see her continue working towards a feasibility study for a neighbourhood energy utility.
“This is the way to go for the future,” said Councillor Doug Race, one of four new faces in council chambers.
Councillors Paul Lalli and Rob Kirkham echoed that sentiment, though the latter sounded a cautious note over the vintage of the technology and the associated business models.
“Sounds to me like we’re not there yet as a tried and proven experience,” said Kirkham.
Joining FooFat was Glen Stainton, vice-president of operations for North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC), a municipally-owned utility. Stainton, who is also a resident of Squamish, happens to be the local sage on this file, as LEC has been in operation for four years and continues to expand. He reinforced FooFat’s presentation with the story of LEC’s genesis.
A neighbourhood energy utility — or district energy utility — is typically a network of pipes circulating hot water to a cluster of buildings, with heat provided by any number of sources, such as geothermal. Those pipes are then used in place of electricity to heat homes.
Prototypes reach as far back as the Roman Empire, though Europe has since re-pioneered the approach, and similar systems have been springing up in North America. In addition to LEC, there’s also a neighbourhood energy system at the athletes’ village in Whistler. On Vancouver Island, Dockside Green has a system that uses bio gasification.
Squamish, said Stainton and FooFat, is uniquely poised to install these systems with maximum affordability. In North Vancouver, laying pipes cost about $1,000 per kilometre because pre-existing streets had to be dug up in order to lay the infrastructure. In Squamish, however, developments like Waterfront Landing or the Oceanfront Peninsula have not yet broken earth, making the installation of pipes significantly cheaper.
“What we want to do is make sure we have feasibility and that it makes sense financially,” said FooFat.
She stressed the importance of alternative energy sources. According to her research, electricity in B.C. could rise in price by almost 60 per cent over the next decade, and B.C. Hydro is no longer interested in the home heating game. Meanwhile, energy-related spats between the Ukraine and Russia, which have seen other European nations left shivering, serve as encouragement for independent home heating generation.
Councillor Patricia Heintzman reaffirmed her support for the project, noting that hydro bills for the Adventure Centre ring in at $40,000 per year. According to FooFat, lender VanCity is interested in hashing out an agreement with the district. If the Adventure Centre became a candidate for retrofitting, the ideal agreement would see that $40,000 a year going to VanCity until the loan is settled, after which the savings would benefit district coffers.
Council directed FooFat to continue her work, some of which involves securing grant money. Though she wasn’t exactly sure of her figures, FooFat said she had so far clinched about $40,000 in grant money, half of which is earmarked for a feasibility study.
Stainton warned that time is of the essence and that council should be wary of approving developments that plan on baseboard heating.
“You’ll never get them back again,” he said.