Hot stuff: city maps geothermal potential

In an effort to keep our homes warm in an environmentally sensitive way, Whitehorse has become the first Canadian city to map the earth’s heat.

In an effort to keep our homes warm in an environmentally sensitive way, Whitehorse has become the first Canadian city to map the earth’s heat.

The Whitehorse-wide geothermal map came out of a sustainability charrette held this week.

There, more than 80 experts, politicians and citizens developed green strategies that will guide the city for the next 50 years.

Geothermal systems tap the heat of the earth to provide commercial and residential properties with hot water and hot and cold air.

“Whitehorse is the first municipality in Canada to undertake a geoexchange mapping that identifies potential heat sources within our ground that we can use to our benefit for our buildings,” said Mayor Bev Buckway on Thursday.

“That really exemplifies the innovation that the city is well known for.”

The “guiding principles,” including ideas for geothermal heating, will help the city in its goal to become a Canadian leader in sustainability, she said.

Moving city neighbourhoods to a geothermal heating system could see residents save anywhere from 40 to 70 per cent on their heating bills, said Andrew Chaisson, a geoexhange engineer with EBA environmental consultants in Kelowna, BC, and a charrette consultant.

“As far as energy savings, geothermal saves anywhere from 40 to 70 per cent of actual energy that you’re actually consuming.

“How that translates into actual dollars and cents depends on how you’re heating.

“If you’re heating with electricity versus heating with fuel oil, each one of those methods of heat has their own costs.”

The geothermal map itself will help officials decide what areas of the city are good candidates for geothermal heating, and which aren’t, he said.

“To describe what (the map) is first of all, it is a geoexchange favourability, or potential, map,” said Chaisson.

Solar and wind energy potential has been well tested and documented.

Geothermal potential has not, he said.

“Wind has wind speed maps, so you can look at a map and say ‘OK, it has this speed.’ But, geoexchange had nothing like that.”

The map itself takes a number of variables into account, including “subsurface thermal properties” and how difficult an area would be to drill and install piping into the ground, he said.

The charrette itself cost $160,000 and included transportation, global warming, geothermal and planning experts working with members of the community, said Lesley Cabott, the city’s integrated community sustainability co-ordinator.

“That (cost) includes all our consultant contracts,” she said.

The $160,000 comes from the federal government’s gas tax program, which sees a portion of federal revenues transferred to municipalities across the country.

In the Yukon, the gas tax program requires every municipality to develop an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan.

All the work accomplished over the week will be posted on the city’s website, including a new interactive website tool — http://whitehorseprinciples.visiblestrategies.com/ — that displays what the city’s sustainability goals are.

“All the presentations are on the city’s website,” said Cabott.

Sustainability goals for the city identified by charrette participants vary, according to the website.

They include land and infrastructure development that minimizes our footprint on the environment and governance that promotes sustainable development.

The plan also calls for a vibrant local economy that’s self-sufficient and uses resources efficiently.

The principles identified by the charrette stakeholders will be used to guide the development goals and strategies for the community for the next 50 years, according to the city.

This long-term vision also includes a seven-year strategic plan, which the city will use to identify specific projects.

Charrette participants also included local citizens, representatives from the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and the Yukon and federal governments.