Tolko could fuel downtown energy

The City of Kelowna is one step closer to having a downtown area powered by waste heat from the Tolko sawmill.

The process, which has been in the discussion and planning stages for six years, is nearly complete according to FortisBC Alternative Energy Services (FAES) representatives who spoke to council Monday.

FAES would provide the service.

It is expected City Council will be asked to sign a formal agreement with FortisBC by the end of October.

Approval for the Downtown Energy System was granted to FAES by the BC Utilities Commission back in July.

Siraz Dalmir, Strategic Solutions Manager with FAES says the next step is to finalize an Operating Agreement with the city and with other customers.

If all goes well, Dalmir hopes design work can begin later this fall with construction to start in the spring of next year.

Dalmir says the intention is for FAES to operate what he calls a 'hot water based district energy system.'

"What that means is we would be running high temperature water through pipes in the ground in city streets delivered to properties in the downtown core using heat recovered from the processes at the Tolko mill," says Dalmir.

"What we are doing is implementing renewable energy into downtown to, amongst other things, help address the City's sustainability targets."

The underground system, if approved, is proposed to run along Guy Street and Sunset Drive, branching off at Manhatten Drive and Water Street to the east.

It would run along Clement, stopping midway between St. Paul and Richter and north-south on Ellis between Gaston Avenue and Queensway.

It would also branch off along Cawston and Doyle avenues.

When development warrants, Dalmir says additional lines could be extended to the Central Green and downtown sites between Bernard Avenue and Highway 97.

A total of 19 buildings have been targeted for use, including:

  • City Hall
  • Library
  • Memorial Arena
  • Rotary Centre for the Arts
  • Prospera Place
  • Cannery Lofts
  • The Dolphins
  • The Lagoons
  • The Madison
  • Waterscapes
  • The Downtown Lofts
  • Discovery Bay
  • Monaco (Proposed Highrises)
  • Okanagan Strata Management
  • Delta Grand Hotel
  • Royal Private Residence
  • Kelowna Law Courts
  • Central Okanagan Health Unit
  • IHA Admin Building (Proposed Office Tower)

Dalmir says the benefits to the city include a $26M investment (from FAES) , mostly in construction jobs, an on-going revenue generation of 3% of annual revenues as an operating fee and significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reductions through efficiencies for both the city and the community.

"The (environmental) impact will be very significant in downtown - 80% reduction in GHG's in downtown buildings as a result of connecting to the Downtown Energy System," says Dalmir.

"What that works out to at full build out is about 6,500 tons of CO2 reductions annually - that's about 800 vehicles off the road annually."

While agreeing it's a good partnership for the city, Councillor Robert Hobson did question what would happen if Tolko suddenly pulled its operation out of Kelowna.

"Having some sense of certainty of our energy sources is very important so we have a 20 year agreement with the Tolko mill," says Dalmir.

He says there are also several back-up plans if something were to change at Tolko.

"If the Tolko mill were to leave we have the ability to replace their energy source with a similar type of energy source," says Dalmir.

They currently have a bio-mass process that takes the waste wood and generates electricity for them.

"What we would be doing here is recover the heat that goes up their stacks."

He says if Tolko were to go away they would replace that bio-mass system with a modern one that would do exactly the same thing.

Dalmir says back-up plans are also in place in case of a short or long-term shutdown at the mill.

Signing onto the system is optional and not mandatory, however, Dalmir says the response from potential customers has been positive.

He says customers are signing up.

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