Big thinking about small-scale project will warm Edmonton’s heart

Mary Ann Debrinski has a really big pipe dream for Edmonton’s downtown heart. it’s green, brilliant and realistic!

As the City of Edmonton’s Director of Urban Renewal, she and her colleagues are working with ENMAX Energy and EPCOR on a small-scale district energy project that could ultimately heat many downtown buildings with hot water from a centrally located thermal generation facility, and save a whack of greenhouse gas emissions in the bargain.

It’s a concept that can realistically only be pulled off every 25 years or so, she says.

“About that long ago, the City looked at heating downtown buildings with hot water from the Rossdale Power Plant, but even though many buildings’ boilers were due for replacement at the time, the idea was discarded because of the costly distance between the source of heat and its potential users.”

She explains that today, the average age of building boilers is about 25 years, so the timing is again perfect for a small-scale heating plant to be built close to the critical mass of both existing downtown buildings and future buildings in the soon-to-be-developed The Quarters Downtown area east of 97th Street.

The thermal generation plant would occupy about four city lots of space and stand a couple of stories tall. ENMAX, which has developed expertise in district energy and operates one in Calgary, would operate the plant. The hot water it would produce would be piped by EPCOR to buildings and hooked into their heating systems.

“This would save building owners the cost of replacing and constantly maintaining their boilers, and free up quite a lot of space in their buildings. Many mechanical rooms are on top floors, which is prime real estate,” says Mary Ann.

“ENMAX needs initial participation from a number of buildings to make the project financially viable, so the City’s contribution would be the provision of land for the district energy plant and the participation of City buildings in the Churchill Square area,” says Mary Ann.

As more downtown buildings need boiler replacement, it’s expected many of them will join in, as will the owners of many of the new buildings planned for The Quarters Downtown.

The concept grew out of the City’s early planning for The Quarters Downtown to be a high-sustainability development.

“Sustainability is our main objective,” says Mary Ann. “If building owners look at capital and operating costs of boiler replacement and maintenance staff compared to the cost of district energy heating, the two are just about cost-neutral.

“The big saving, however, is in greenhouse gases.

“Working at full capacity, the district energy plant will consume only half of the natural gas as all of the buildings would if they had their own boilers.

“So we’ll be saving 63,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year, the equivalent of taking more than 3,000 cars off the road,” she says.


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