The District Energy Centre, which opened on Friday, sits on the edge of downtown Calgary. ((CBC))

The District Energy Centre, a glass complex on the edge of downtown Calgary, is heralding a new way to heat buildings while cutting energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Enmax, the city-owned electric company, runs the heat-generation facility at 407 Ninth Ave. S.E. Politicians across three levels of government, which pitched in money to build the $31-million energy centre, were on hand for its official opening on Friday.

The centre burns natural gas to heat water, which is then used to heat nearby buildings. In its first phase, it can heat up to 10 million square feet of office and residential space, freeing up the need for those buildings to have individual boilers.

The centre's first customer is the City of Calgary Municipal Building, which includes city hall.

Eventually, the plan is to build a co-generation plant to capture waste heat and pipe it to the energy centre and its clients through a network of insulated underground pipes.

Key part of city redevelopment

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier said the energy centre is a key part of the redevelopment of the East Village as new buildings can tie into this efficient energy system.

"The pipes are now in the ground as part of the area that's here, and so when you look at it, it's about really building for the future, a sustainable community like East Village," he said.


The heat-generation facility is envisioned to help redevelop East Village in a green way. (CBC)

The Energy Centre is the first of its kind in Alberta but such facilities are common in other countries.

"Denmark has been building facilities like this as municipal infrastructure since the early '80s. Except in places like Denmark, it is a requirement," said Gary Holden, president of Enmax.

High cost is a big reason such centres aren't as common in Canada, said Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert.

"Economically … they're typically having difficulty competing with low-fuel stocks like coal," he said.

But Holden said he can envision up to a dozen more of these energy centres being built in Calgary.