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Construction began last week on a hydroelectric project that will offset the total annual energy consumption at Whistler Blackcomb resort in British Columbia, in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Project, located entirely within Whistler Blackcomb’s operating area, will produce 33.5 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year — the equivalent of powering the ski resort’s winter and summer operations including 38 lifts, 17 restaurants, 269 snowguns and all company-owned customer-service facilities and mechanical infrastructure, and enough to run about 3,000 homes.
The 7.5 megawatt hydro project is being developed by Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Ltd., part of a joint venture between Innergex Renewable Energy and Ledcor Power Group. Whistler Blackcomb is directly involved in the construction and environmental stewardship of the project.
“Climate change is the number one issue for a ski resort,” said Arthur deJong, Whistler’s mountain planning and environmental resource manager. He points out that the resort, situated along a major transmission axis from big hydroelectric dams in the interior of the province, has always purchased carbon-free power from BC Hydro. “But every green electron we can produce is one less fossil-fuel electron generated elsewhere. We have mountains and a lot of precipitation, so microhydro is our best opportunity.”
Any resort with a snowmaking system has potential for microhydro, because when snowmaking isn’t in progress the pipes can carry water downhill into a turbine. “We already have a test microhydro plant located next to the Symphony lift, and we’ve allocated $2 million to optimize all our snowmaking pipes for hydro,” deJong said, and he estimated that the snowmaking system might eventually make power for about 750 homes.
Fitzsimmons Creek is already tied extensively into Whistler Blackcomb’s snowmaking system, and much of the area that will need to be developed runs along an existing access road for Whistler Blackcomb’s operations. The project will not require above-ground hydro lines and the lines can travel underground in a previously disturbed area.
The Fitzsimmons Creek Hydro Project will have a single turbine with a capacity of 7.5 megawatts, and the power generated by the project will be sold to BC Hydro. The project will be among the first to use BC Hydro’s Standing Offer Program, created under the BC government’s 2007 Energy Plan.
Whistler has a permanent population of about 10,000. An additional 40,000 people are expected to attend the Olympic games.
Ledcor CMI Limited is the contractor for the project, and is the major contractor for other hydro projects in the Sea to Sky corridor between Vancouver and Whistler. Construction is currently underway and the project is expected to be operational by 2010. “Olympic carbon neutrality has to be based on offsets,” deJong said. “The carbon component of the aviation segment alone is huge.”
Solar electric generation plays a small role in ski resort operations, usually powering remote communications and small buildings like lift operator stations. Whistler’s longer-term plans for renewable energy include the mountains’ other vast resource, wind. “We get a lot of snow, which means a lot of storms,” deJong said. “Wind at the summit can blow 200 kilometers and hour (124 mph). There isn’t a large wind turbine made that can work in that environment. So we have meteo towers built lower down to find the sweet spots where we can get dependable wind power. We had hoped to have a wind farm in operation for the Olympics, but we may simply have test turbine operating by then.” One huge advantage: Every road up the mountain already has a buried 25 kilovolt transmission line to carry power to the ski lifts. Those cables can as easily run power back down the mountain from wind turbines located near the tops of appropriate lifts.
Whistler’s parent company, Intrawest Corp., operates ten major ski resorts across North America. “We will push for renewable energy at all of them,” deJong said. “We have power transmission and we know how to build towers on the mountains. We have the infrastructure. In the future, wind turbines will be common.”
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