Blatchford renewable energy utility ready to go

The community of Blatchford — once seen as a pie in the sky project for Edmonton — is heating up with its renewable energy utility now hooked up and ready for business. 

First stage of Blatchford's carbon-neutral community opens on former City Centre Airport grounds

The first phase of the Blatchford renewable energy utility is online on the site of the former Edmonton City Centre Airport lands. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The community of Blatchford — once seen as a pie in the sky project for Edmonton — is heating up with its renewable energy utility now hooked up and ready for business. 

City council's urban planning community got an update on the Blatchford District Energy Sharing System at a meeting on Friday. 

The utility uses geothermal energy to provide heating and cooling to homes in the first stages of the community. 

Counc. Ben Henderson, a long-time proponent of the system, toured the utility last week. 

"You could plug into it today," Henderson said. "It was really exciting to be able to go out and see that the first plant in action and see how it is working." 

The first few townhomes are still being built on the site, after the real estate launch in March. 

It's been several years since the city started talking about it. 

"We made the commitment to do this when we closed the airport add that that to me feels like forever ago," Henderson said. 

Anyone moving into Blatchford will be hooked up to the independent utility — with the goal for the city to eventually make money from it.

The first phase of the shared energy system is based on geothermal heat from underground tunnels.

It requires a small amount of electricity to drive the heat pumps but Henderson notes it's a "remarkably efficient system." 
Christian Felske, city's director of renewable energy systems, says the first energy centre will process geothermal heat to homes and businesses in Blatchford. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Christian Felske, director of renewable energy systems with the city, said the first customers are expected to hook up to the system late this year or in early 2020. 

He told the committee that the utility will grow in stages over the next decades. 

"As Blatchford will grow, the utility will grow," Felske said.

"This staged approach ensures that the utility will be flexible and can adapt to new technologies, market conditions and other external and internal factors when they arise." 

The next centre will be based on sewer heat exchange, using the heat of the existing sewer network underground.

The utility needs an estimated $93 million in funding over the next 10-15 years for construction of the next stages. 
The first homes in Blatchford are being constructed and hooked up to the renewable district energy system. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

In 2016, council approved an initial $19.4 million for planning, design and construction of the first stage of the District Energy Sharing System. 

The business case investment is $660 million over the first 50 years.

District energy systems have been around for decades but aren't that common in Canada. 

Whistler, Vancouver, Richmond, Langley and Surrey in British Columbia have one, as well as Toronto. 

Felske said Blatchford's carbon-neutral community is designed to accommodate 30,000 people. 

"The scale of the system when fully built out it will be one of the largest in Canada or even North America."