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Whistler to pay premium price for green energy

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Municipality signs up Spring Creek fire hall for B.C. Hydro’s Green Power Certificates

The municipality will spend more on their hydro bills at the new Spring Creek fire hall to ensure the power is coming from environmentally friendly sources.

For a year’s worth of electricity at the fire hall, estimated to be about 340,000 kilowatt hours, the municipality will pay an extra $6,800. The regular cost for power is five cents for each kilowatt hour. For so-called green power, Hydro is charging seven cents.

Whistler is one of 20 charter customers who have signed up for B.C. Hydro’s recently launched Green Power Certificates power program.

The program is designed to recognize the green power pumping into the hydro grid from low-impact, socially responsible independent power producers.

"It fits in with the overall community values of protecting the environment," said Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works for the RMOW.

Apart from the direct environmental benefits from buying green power, Barnett said the program is also a particularly good fit for the fire hall, which is being built to green building standards.

"I didn’t want to go too big," said Barnett, because Hydro’s program is still a pilot project.

Although there are higher costs for the green power, there are also added benefits, said Brenda Goehring, manager of B.C. Hydro’s Green and Alternative Energy Division.

"There’s lots of reasons why people want to buy green power," she said.

She pointed to striving for sustainability, practising environmentally sound actions and reaching environmental targets as a few of the pluses of the certificate program.

"Customers are increasingly interested in premium products like Green Power Certificates that help them meet their environmental goals and build a competitive edge," she added.

On top of this she said that the program encourages the production of green energy throughout the province.

"By purchasing Green Power Certificates they are supporting the development of additional green energy in B.C.," she said.

The money is being used to buy new and additional green energy and will directly increase the amount of green energy in the system.

"That $7,000 will result in a net environmental benefit," said Andrew Pape-Salmon, director of sustainable energy program in the Vancouver office of the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development.

"When a municipality purchases green power it sends a strong signal to other consumers."

Most of the green energy is coming from run-of-river projects, most of which are operated by Independent Power Producers.

These small hydro projects, like the ones planned on the Rutherford and Miller Creeks in Pemberton and the Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler, meet Hydro’s green criteria.

They use renewable energy. The have low to no emissions as well as minimal impacts on surrounding ecosystems.

Hydro buys power from IPPs at a premium rate, about twice Hydro’s average cost for electricity.

Once the IPPs tap into the Hydro grid there is no way of knowing if the power going to any given place is green or not, but Hydro knows how many green megawatts are generated in total.

The charter customers will buy green certificates based on the total amount of green energy going into the grid.

The value in the premium price isn’t the electricity but rather the increased awareness of green power.

Gerry Scott, director of the climate change program for the David Suzuki Foundation, said the pilot project is a good thing but he is concerned Hydro’s approach is too narrow in its focus.

"This is a different approach that we think is not as useful as a universal system approach," he said.

"We don’t think the development of renewables should be on a volunteer or charitable status.

"We’re concerned about people paying a premium price for energy. The costs should be system-wide. The whole system should have more green energy in it."

Still, he said it’s a step forward for renewables, albeit a limited step forward.

For a place like Whistler, a municipality that is becoming a leader in sustainability initiatives, the program fits with other ongoing programs like green buildings.

Once the Spring Creek fire hall is built it will have a green building rating under the U.S. LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

The proponents are trying to get enough points for a silver LEED designation, based on green practices in design, construction and operation.

The green energy from B.C. Hydro may get the fire hall another point in the LEED system, said Graham Smith, development services manager with B.C. Building Corporation.

But as the LEED system is American, the Centre for Resource Solutions in California has yet to hear of B.C. Hydro’s program.

Smith said he is trying to "join the dots."

"This will open up the possibility of cross border compatibility regarding how green power (is) defined and recognized under LEED," he said.

Even if the hall does not qualify for any LEED points with Hydro’s green power, Smith said it is still a step in the right direction.

"The main thing is to go green, not just to get the LEED points, (but) because it’s a good thing to do."

Among the other 20 charter customers there is the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, the University of British Columbia and Canada Place Corporation.

B.C. Hydro will issue a new call for green energy production this month. The corporation has a target of 800 gigawatt hours of new generation.

Smith calls the Green Power Certificates "a worthy program."

"If nobody supports it, it will just continue to be business as usual," he said.

This is the first program of its kind for B.C. Hydro but there are similar programs throughout North America and in Europe.

Goehring said: "The pilot is an opportunity for B.C. Hydro to learn how to structure, price and promote green electricity and to learn about the market potential – which we hope leads to a more permanent offering to our customers."