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District heating system powers up

January 14th, 2010 · 8 Comments

As I zipped across the Cambie Bridge in the dark this morning (Radio Canada interview, morning swim), the pre-dawn gloom was lit up with the pinkish-orange pulsing fingers next to the bridge that are the stacks for the district heating system at Southeast False Creek.

They’re ugly as heck but the light is nice, though it made me wonder if the village is already using maximum energy, since the lights are supposed to change colour depending on the level of energy use. Surely pink-orange can’t be good? I’d know if I were down at the tour of the new plant (be still, my beating heart) going on this morning with various dignitaries, as the plant and system are officiallyopened.

In spite of my snarky tone here, I think this is one of the more interesting accomplishments of the Olympic village and I’ll be fascinated to hear how it’s working in the coming months and years. Even though I think of myself as an amateur science buff, I still can’t quite grasp the concept of capturing heat from sewer lines to provide heat.

On another note, another light display illuminating the sky was the new VISIONCRITICAL neon glowing from the Pivotal Building. At first I thought it was some Bob Rennie-style “Everything is going to be alright” art installation. Then I thought it might be a witty political slogan. Then I remembered it’s the name of a new software company that’s recently moved into the building.

But what a thing for civic voters to be looking at as they come across the Cambie Bridge every day, contemplating the good or bad they think that the Vision Vancouver group is carrying out at city hall.


Categories: Uncategorized

  • I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at Dockside Green ( in Victoria. I had a chance to visit the site in September and see how they manage waste on site and use that to heat the development (residential and commercial spaces). Really interesting stuff!

  • gmgw

    I’m more than a bit stunned (and a bit appalled, quite frankly), to hear you refer to the Neighbourhood Energy Utility (to give it its proper name) as “one of the more interesting accomplishments of the Olympic Village”, as though those who have developed that neighbourhood are wholly responsible for the utility in its present form. Evidently you’re unaware of the vigorous effort launched by the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association to stop the NEU’s first incarnation: A wood-chip burning facility that would have contributed substantially to ozone and smoke levels in the immediate area, as well as bringing dozens of large trucks bearing loads of wood chips into the neighbourhood each week. The FCSNA lobbied mightily with both Engineering and City Council to prevent that version of the NEU from being built, and were ultimately successful in working with both bodies to come up with something different and less detrimental to the neighbourhood.

    I’m pleased you (tentatively) like the look of the NEU, but please give credit where credit is due: Its final design, appearance and function are largely due to the efforts of the FCSNA and its immediate past president, Arthur Brock, whose home is literally across the street from the facility and whose leadership was instrumental in bringing about a greener solution to the problem.

    As for your uncertainty regarding the functionality of the sewage-powered station, it may help to clarify things to know that the NEU is known in some circles as the “hot shit solution” to SEFC’s energy needs.

    Three websites of relevance to this discussion (Googling will turn up a number of others):


  • Frances Bula


    I am shocked, shocked that you don’t know that I’m the first reporter (and maybe the only one, I can’t quite remember) who wrote about Arthur Brock and the local community’s opposition to the original wood-burning plan.

    Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be the comprehensive history.

    If I were to give the comprehensive history, I would have to mention that some people in the green movement who are still saddened by that opposition. They argue that people opposed it more on aesthetic grounds or what they imagine a good environmental solution to be than reality. (Uh-oh, cue the battling debaters here.)

    I did not know that Arthur and his group were instrumental in changing the entire outward appearance of the facility. That’s news to me.

  • Bill Lee

    Prof Frances talked about
    (14 janvier 2010)
    L’avenir de la Presse écrite sur la Côte Ouest
    Avec: Frances Bula, journaliste indépendante, Vancouver


    Why don’t you wake up to Phare Ouest every morning at 6 am (97.7 FM and relay from Victoria at 99.7 but latter only 1200 watts from the Highlands) Better music and more focused analysis from PPB.

  • Frances Bula


    Vous etes trop gentil. Je vous remercie pour la publicite en anglais et en francais. Est-ce qu’on va se recontrer un jour?

  • gmgw

    I don’t know if apologies are in order, but if I was ever aware that you had reported on the NEU controversy, I’d forgotten it. So thank you, retroactively. And furthermore, I didn’t mean to claim that “Arthur and his group” were responsible for “changing [the NEU’s] entire outward appearance”. There was some input into the final design, but they can’t claim complete responsibility. But credit for the change of technologies can and should be given to Arthur and the FCSNA, and to the City staff who were willing to listen to and act on the concerns of the neighbourhood (yes, it actually does happen on occasion).

  • johnny

    To GMGW,

    Arthur Brock has worked tirelessly on a number of issues and it’s clear that he has the public’s interest at heart. Fully agree with you that he deserves some positive recognition here for his efforts.

    The comments above echo well the general public misperceptions regarding the use of biomass energy in Vancouver. It’s clear that more dialogue is required to address the fears around the use of biomass and other alternative sources of energy.

    The facts:
    – the use of wood pellet fuel at the SEFC energy centre would have required one fuel delivery truck every three days. This truck is approximately the size of a garbage truck, however with much better designed access and of course no odour. The carbon emissions associated with transport from the interior of bc would have been approximately 2-3% of the carbon emissions offset by comparable natural gas boilers

    – by using best available control technology (i.e. electrostatic precipitators) coupled with a proven modern combustion system the emissions associated with the wood pellet option could have been less than that of a comparable natural gas boiler system. The Swedes make extensive use of wood pellets for fuel and their air quality standards are much higher. They have plants that produce less than 5mg/m3 particulate (natural gas produces around 10 mg/m3).

    – aesthetic – the plant could have been dressed with similar high architectural quality as the newly commissioned sewage heat plant. nexterra recently commissioned a plant for dockside green in victoria that is receiving all kinds of positive response

    The big failing in SEFC was the development timeline was far too constrained for a proper public process and the key stakeholders (including Mr. Brock), should have been included earlier in the discussions. The public did not have all the required information and as could be expected their imaginations were left to fill in the gaps.

    The biomass issue remains a very important one for our society. Biomass, from either wood waste, agricultural etc is one of the few carbon neutral energy options available. Heat pumps (like SEFC) are great when you have brand new development that can accomodate a very low grade energy source, but cannot serve our existing building stock very well. This is because these buildings require much higher temperature heat supplies to function (i.e. some form of combustion is required). More than half of our local carbon emissions are generated by heating of buildings, and if we’re going achieve real reductions we absolutely need to give biomass a chance.

  • Blaffergassted

    Biomass energy is coming to UBC.

    Semitrailers will carry wood and construction waste from as far away as New Westminster.