Gibsons is moving to exempt another phase of the Parkland subdivision from connection to the Town-owned geo-exchange energy utility.
The original zoning bylaws for the neighbourhood included a covenant requiring developers to install the distribution lines and service connections to hook into the utility, provided the Town had established enough capacity to service the homes with geothermal heating and cooling.
A serious breakdown in the system during the winter of 2015-16 led to an expensive retrofit and the Town paying compensation to some homeowners.
It also prompted a review of the system, and a decision to exempt Phase 3 “until operational improvements could be made to the system.”
Dave Newman, director of infrastructure services, told council’s committee of the whole Sept. 4 that the estimated cost of adding the capacity needed to service the proposed 38 lots in Phase 4 would be between $750,000 and $1 million.
“The Town does not have sufficient reserves to fund this expansion; therefore, at this point, debt would be required to fund this expansion,” Newman’s report said.
Newman said because Phase 4 is a subdivision not a rezoning, approval to go ahead cannot be withheld, and the requirement to provide geo-utility connections cannot be enforced unless the Town commits to expanding the District Energy Utility.
Coun. Stafford Lumley said he felt, given the “kinda disturbing” financial picture at the utility, that the incoming council will have to take a hard look at it.
“Now you’re going to have 50 per cent of Parkland not on the geothermal. You’ve got a lot of disgruntled people on it who want to get off it. It’s probably for the next council [to do] a serious review of the geothermal and Parkland and make some sort of decision,” he said.
Other councillors wondered whether having to exempt Parkland Phase 4 would be the beginning of the end of the District Energy Utility idea, but Newman said if and when the Town is ready to invest in new fields and infrastructure, other neighbourhoods could be brought on line.
“I agree it’s disappointing at some degree to let this go,” said Coun. Jeremy Valeriote. “I feel like we made our beds in some way when we didn’t fund the business plan… I’d like to see us shore up the system we have and make people happy with it and I think we’ve done that or are working towards it. I feel like this was a flagship sustainability project five, seven or maybe 10 years ago, and I think people are proud to be on it... I wonder if this was a great idea when we did it, but this is reflecting that it’s slowly becoming technologically behind.”
Coun. Silas White expressed concerns about what exempting Phase 4 might mean for the future of the utility. “I’m concerned that this decision that’s before us could not only isolate the geothermal utility to only what’s serving Parkland now – the first two phases – but could actually disintegrate what we already have. I’ve heard a number, but it’s a growing number, of people who just want off the geothermal system, and part of it is because our initial decision to exempt Phase 3… I’m concerned about the viability, and the economic viability, of the entire project.”
The motion to exempt Phase 4 passed, but still requires final adoption at the next council meeting.