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Whistler's waste will provide warmth

Athletes village could showcase green energy system to the world



One man’s waste could be keeping another man warm at Whistler’s Olympic athletes’ village.

Municipal engineers are looking to transform the waste in the landfill and the sewage treatment plant into green energy for the legacy village.

While that may sound dirty, it could be one of the cleanest, and most sustainable, ways to heat the Olympic village, which will become employee housing units after the 2010 Games.

"We’ve done buildings with alternative energy systems before but when we’re doing a whole neighbourhood like this, it allows us, through the economies of scale, to go to a whole different level of engineering opportunities," said Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works at the resort municipality.

With a carte blanche to build a brand new neighbourhood from scratch, engineers are investigating the possibilities of taking the warmth from the resort’s effluent and the methane gas from the now decommissioned landfill and transforming it into heat for the new village.

All Whistler has to do is capture it.

"Council’s excited about this," said Mayor Ken Melamed. "It’s consistent with our sustainability commitment to green building energy conservation."

If it moves ahead the athletes’ village could be a model sustainable community for the world to see in 2010.

The foundation of this potential green energy system would lie in the ground underneath, in the form of a district energy system. That system is a series of pipes, which carries warm water to the buildings, which in turn heats the homes.

"To make it really exciting is you use a green energy source to heat the (district energy) loop so that’s when it becomes a bit of magic," said Barnett.

In this case, the source is the warm effluent from the nearby sewage treatment plant.

The effluent would go through a heat exchanger and the thermal energy in the sewage would be transferred to water or another fluid and pumped through the district energy system.

To Barnett that is the very essence of a sustainable system, using waste heat from the sewage system to heat homes.

"It’s full circle – that’s a sustainable system right there," he said.

And that’s music to the ears of Ian Bruce, climate change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, because it means the village won’t be contributing to climate change by burning more fossil fuels.

"That’s a fantastic use of changing the way we use energy and this is groundbreaking in the sense that we’re displacing the need to burn, for example, fossil fuels such as natural gas and so it has numerous long term benefits for the environment and economically," he said.