Harnessing energy from the bay

Published Friday September 12th, 2008 - Telegraph Journal

Saint John City Hall wants to bring the Bay of Fundy to a heating and cooling system near you.

As an advertising pitch it sounds a little ambitious, but it's an idea that's seriously picking up steam.

Common council has approved a $132,000 feasibility study for a green thermal utility.

This small uptown utility could eventually harness energy from the harbour, using seawater to heat and cool Market Square, Harbour Station, the Canada Games Aquatic Centre and other big facilities. There's also talk that Irving Oil and the Hardman Group will use it for future developments.

High Performance Energy Systems, the company doing the study, has already started similar work on five buildings in Dartmouth, with initial capital costs of $3.6 million that would result in savings of $250,000 a year at today's fuel prices. That means a payoff in 14 years and a much smaller environmental footprint.

The City of Saint John has embarked on energy-savings projects before. Thanks to upgrades to lights, boilers, heating and ventilation systems, the municipality has saved taxpayers $5.4 million since 1996.

This is an area where the city has been a leader and should be proud. Reducing costs even more means the savings could be put toward recreation facilities, better roads or tax cuts.

Who would have thought the Bay of Fundy could do all that?

Project could save city millions

Published Thursday September 11th, 2008 - Telegraph journal

SAINT JOHN - The city is mulling a new heating and cooling system for uptown buildings that would harness energy from the harbour, air conditioners and ice rinks, potentially saving millions.

Common council has approved Halifax-based High Performance Energy Systems to conduct a roughly $132,000 feasibility study of a so-called green thermal utility.

The system would transform water from the city's harbour into an energy source to cool buildings in the uptown core. It would also trap heat created in the operations of air conditioners, ice rinks and, potentially, a new sewage treatment plant and funnel it to area buildings.

Early estimates show the Canada Games Aquatic Centre alone could cut its annual energy costs in half, down to roughly $200,000.

The aquatic centre is one of five uptown buildings the city is considering as early adopters of this technology. Others are Harbour Station, Market Square, the new justice building and new police headquarters.

As the project moves ahead, similar - if not greater - savings could be gleaned from other, potential developments. They include new properties on the current Coast Guard site, a new office building adjacent to Market Square and a proposed new Irving Oil headquarters at Long Wharf.

"There is more than just the savings that are at play here," said Bill Edwards, commissioner of buildings and inspection services.

"We're going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, because we won't be using fossil fuels, and we can add some predictability in terms of the costs of heating buildings," said Edwards, adding the city would no longer be as sensitive to fossil fuel price fluctuations.

High Performance Energy Systems, a regional leader in green thermal utility systems, uses its patented technology to trap cold temperatures from natural bodies of water and heat from the operations of machines, such as air conditioners and ice rinks.

The cold and hot energy that cannot be used immediately is sent to an underground thermal storage facility.

During the summer months, when air conditioners operate in full swing, the excess heat is funneled below street level and saved for the winter. When cold weather hits, harbour water is sent through the underground storage facility, trapping the cool temperatures until summer arrives.

"You don't have to throw away heat and cold temperatures anymore, because you have the ability to store that energy," said David Stewart, principal of High Performance Energy. "Then it doesn't really matter when you use it, because you can simply pull this battery out when you need it."

The Nova Scotia company is preparing to launch its first green thermal utility system later this year with five municipal buildings in Dartmouth. The capital costs for the initial project are estimated at $3.6 million, with cost savings at roughly $250,000 a year.

The firm also plans to extend the thermal system to several large buildings on the Dartmouth waterfront, with an additional price tag of up to $25 million, but no savings estimates are currently available.

In Saint John, High Performance Energy's feasibility study will determine whether the harbour's water temperatures are suitable for a thermal energy system. The study will also determine if the system could produce enough energy for the desired area and whether the upfront costs are manageable.

The city plans to fund the roughly $132,000 study with government programs and its own budget.

"I think we are going to lead the province on this," said Edwards. "We're looking at six per cent (energy savings) for the private sector as a result of this and about 30 per cent for city-owned buildings."