Nanaimo previously reaped the economic rewards of a coal-rich environment and residents could continue to benefit from that industrial investment through a regional heating system.
Ian Gartshore, one of six candidates seeking a Nanaimo city council seat in the March 26 byelection, broached the idea at last week’s all-candidates meeting, suggesting the abandoned coal mines underneath the city provide a prime opportunity.
The flooded mine shafts offer a cost-effective way to heat and cool buildings on a citywide basis, Gartshore says, with the service provided much as the city provides water and sewer service.
Vancouver Island University already determined that geoexchange could be feasible for its Nanaimo campus and is working toward a pilot project for one or two buildings, which could then expand to neighbouring buildings and facilities, such as Nanaimo District Secondary School and the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre.
That’s exactly the kind of thinking Gartshore is advocating to reduce energy and heating costs.
“The only problem is that it wouldn’t be able to be done immediately,” he said, adding the biggest hurdle for Nanaimo is its low-density design, which is why it makes sense to start downtown.
Because it has the most population density, it makes the most sense to start there and expand outward.
Lower energy costs would provide an incentive for businesses and residents to locate downtown.
“It’s going to make a lot of sense for people to be downtown,” Gartshore told the News Bulletin.
Geoexchange is being used in some Vancouver civic buildings, and other communities such as Surrey and Colwood are looking at their options.
Despite the initial capital cost to set up a geoexhange system – likely in the $100 million range – it would reduce energy costs and consumption in the long run, as well as reducing the burden on taxpayers, Gartshore said. It would also cut greenhouse gas emissions and possibly bring more money into the city’s coffers.
Gartshore says the idea would require a fair amount of research and a feasibility study, but given VIU’s findings, the potential is promising.
B.C. municipalities have also committed to cutting carbon emissions and could face penalties for failing to do so, which would make moving to geoexchange even more prudent, Gartshore said.
“It takes some vision and some guts,” he said. “It takes a lot of nerve to say, ‘OK, we’re going to do something very different.’”