Whistler council has thrown its support behind the development of a natural gas pipeline to the resort.
The decision came after a presentation from Terasen Gas at Mondays council meeting, which outlined the utilitys plans for the future.
Cynthia Des Brisay, director of business development for Terasen, explained the company was at a crossroads on how to meet Whistlers current and future energy needs.
There are two main options, she said.
The first is to maintain and expand the existing propane system in the resort. The second is to embark on a major project of converting to natural gas by running a pipeline underground from Squamish.
Des Brisay said the natural gas alternative is Terasens preferred option because it supports Whistlers sustainability initiatives as well as the energy requirements for any 2010 Olympic facilities. It also facilitates a Natural Gas Vehicle Strategy, allowing fleet vehicles like the municipal bus system to convert to natural gas.
Yet a natural gas system is also the more expensive of the two alternatives. It involves laying 53 kilometres of underground pipeline from Squamish at an estimated cost of up to $40 million.
By comparison the expansion of the propane facilities to a third site in the Cal-Cheak would cost half as much.
Wayne Cankovic, Terasens operations manager for Squamish/Whistler, said the company has explored a number of ways to bring the natural gas to Whistler.
"Weve looked at several options and really (the pipeline is) the only option that is even close to being economically feasible," he said after the meeting.
Key to Terasens decision is that their customers gas bills do not soar with their expansion plans.
"Our objective is to maintain competitive rates (with electricity)," said Des Brisay.
Terasen has been looking at way to reduce costs for building the sizable natural gas infrastructure. For example, co-ordinating a pipeline project with the Sea to Sky Highway project would lower costs. Cost sharing with other utilities like Telus, who could share the pipeline ditch for their cables, could also reduce costs.
Selling off the propane storage facilities in the resort, which will become obsolete after a natural gas pipeline is installed, is one more way to offset the costs.
Des Brisay said the higher cost of the natural gas infrastructure would be partially offset by the lower cost of the commodity itself natural gas is a cheaper commodity than propane.
Other benefits include reducing CO2 equivalent emissions by more than 6,500 tons per year, particularly if the pipeline encourages conversion to natural gas in vehicles.
Councillor Ken Melamed said the greatest potential of natural gas is in vehicle consumption.
"I think this is outstanding news," he said after Des Brisays presentation, adding that a natural gas system would give Whistler the best hope of meeting its energy targets.
They key for the utility company, said Des Brisay, is to look at lode building opportunities that would encourage people to switch to natural gas.
This is where Whistler can help, she said.
By developing building guidelines that support natural gas, Whistler can encourage lode growth in the resort, which in turn will keep the rates competitive.
Councillor Nick Davies presented a motion at the council table to support natural gas development and to intervene in the utilities commission hearings on Terasens behalf.
The company will need to make a decision by the end of the year in order to co-ordinate with the highway project.
If the pipeline project moves ahead, Whistler would be able to access natural gas by 2007.
Terasen is currently preparing a resource plan, which assesses the long-term growth potential in the resort and develops resource alternatives to meet the energy requirements.
There will be a stakeholder meeting on Wednesday, June 23.