Terasen Gas has asked for Whistlers support in building a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to the resort in the coming years.
Whistler Council, however, is waiting for the completion of a number of studies before making a decision to commit to the project.
In a presentation to council on Monday night Cynthia Des Brisay, director of business development for Terasen, said the company needs Whistlers support and commitment to use natural gas before it can move ahead with its pipeline plans.
"Whistler really is in the drivers seat in providing more certainty around the natural gas pipeline," she said.
An underground pipeline from Squamish would serve all Whistler neighbourhoods, which currently get propane from the Terasen system.
But in order to make it truly economical, Terasen is looking to capture at least 50 per cent of the potential new growth in the resort to justify the cost of the $40 million pipeline. The new load will make the energy rates more competitive.
"In order to be able to maintain the competitive rates for our customers, we need to attach new load to the system," said Des Brisay after the meeting.
"We could just build a pipeline but if the rates arent competitive then customers will switch off of natural gas and then rates become even less competitive."
The pipeline will not be subsidized by other Terasen customers. Only those customers served by the pipeline will help pay for it.
Terasen estimates that new load growth by 2010 will be roughly 200,000 gigajoules, or almost a quarter the size of the current demand.
Half of that demand would come from the athletes village in the Lower Cheakamus.
Natural gas vehicles would make up 27 per cent of the new demand, the 2010 facilities would be 17 per cent (primarily from the Whistler Sliding Centre, which will feature the bob/luge track) and the Meadow Park Sports Centre, which is currently not on the propane system, would make up six per cent.
As such, a natural gas system in the athletes village could be a critical component of the pipelines future.
A joint study by Terasen, the municipality and B.C. Hydro will examine different energy systems for the athletes village.
That study is to be completed by November.
Des Brisay said the feasibility study will not be looking at conventional technology. It will examine the potential for a high efficiency natural gas system as well as fuel cell technology and ground source heat.
The company is also working to identify and confirm other loads, which are not currently on their propane system and which could be added to the natural gas system.
Meadow Park, for example, is not attached to the Terasen system. If it is connected to the pipeline, the sports facility could serve as an anchor load for the neighbourhood, allowing the rest of Alpine to attach to the system.
"If we built an extension to serve Meadow Park, it could make it economic to actually serve that community (Alpine) as well, which currently we dont serve with the propane pipe system."
Des Brisay also outlined the benefits of moving to natural gas to council.
"Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel," she said.
She said that Terasen believes moving to natural gas will give Whistler a flexible, sustainable energy platform which would link up with the municipalitys plans for a hydrogen future.
As well, the pipeline would reduce Whistlers dependency on the road and rail to carry some of its current energy supply (propane) up the corridor from the Lower Mainland.
The timeline to build the pipeline is based on a number of other factors, including the construction of Highway 99.
The pipeline can be laid concurrently with the highway upgrades.
Des Brisay said Terasen could delay putting in the pipeline until 2007 but the company would need to make a decision in the next few months as they must apply to the B.C. Utilities Commission by the end of the year.
"In order to do that we need to feel confident that theres going to be enough load and what the costs are going to be," she added.
Terasen submitted its Whistler Resource Plan which suggested a pipeline to the B.C. Utilities Commission at the beginning of September.
Councillor Kristi Wells said a commitment to the pipeline from council may be a little premature as they want to explore their energy options.
Des Brisay said Terasen would rather see the municipality make a decision one way or the other in the coming months rather than default on the natural gas option because they could not make a decision in time.
"If we dont make the decision this time, we may miss out on an opportunity," she said.