Travel Blog

24 Mar

An Earth Initiative in Whistler

Whistler is known around the world for its pristine mountains, old growth forests, and clean, fresh glacier lakes.  Tourists flock to our mountains in search of the ultimate outdoor experience.  As a result, the economic well-being of Whistler is directly dependent on the integrity of the natural environment and stable climate patterns.  Nobody will make the trip to Whistler to ski on a snowless mountain, or hike through degraded mountain ecosystems.  At the end of the day, climate change and environmental degradation is bad for tourism and bad for the economy of Whistler.

Photo: Pat Hui

In response to this concern, the Whistler Official Community Plan has set the goal of decreasing energy consumption 10% below 2007 levels by 2020.  However, energy consumption in the community has been steadily increasing since 1990; with the exemption of 2010, Whistler consumed the greatest quantity of energy in 2011 over the past decade.  This presents a challenge and an opportunity for the community of Whistler as it works towards meeting this target, while meeting the increasing demand for energy consuming services.

2011 Whistler Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Report states that buildings are the largest contributor to energy consumption in the community.  As a result, an increasing number of buildings in Whistler have been actively pursuing energy efficiency and conservation measures.  Whistler 2020, an organization working towards creating a sustainable future for Whistler has developed a comprehensive list of sustainability indicators, including ‘Green Buildings’.  This indicator measures the proportion of new developments per year that are built to a comprehensive green building standard such as LEED, Built Green, or Whistler Green.  This includes the new Athlete Centre and the Spring Creek Fire Hall, both of which are LEED silver certified; the Cheakamus Crossing Hostel, certified by Whistler Green; and the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which has registered for LEED, and is working towards certification.

An example of an energy conservation initiative that has been deployed in Whistler buildings is a system developed by Energex Inc, a Vancouver, BC based cleantech company. The system addresses the redundant energy consumption that occurs when rooms are left vacant for several hours a day.  The technology consists of an occupancy based sensor and an Energy Management Unit (EMU) interfaced to a room’s thermostat.  Once a room has been unoccupied for a predetermined period of time, the system adjusts the HVAC settings to reduce energy consumption.  When occupancy is returned to the room, the initial settings are quickly restored.  The potential for savings with this technology are huge, as the outdoor lifestyle of Whistler means that visitors and residents spend their days exploring our mountains, rivers, and lakes and not sitting indoors.  Most people will turn the lights off when they leave a room or building, but very few will adjust the heating and cooling settings.

2 Bedroom Suite at the Westin Whistler using Energex Technology 

Several Whistler hotels have recognized the cost and energy savings produced by the Energex system.  The Westin Resort and Spa was on the forefront, implementing the technology in 2010 in 419 of their guest rooms.  “This makes an important addition to our conservation strategy,” said hotel manager Tony Cary-Barnard. “We’re very excited to have this project complete and to measure the positive impact it has.”  In February 2011, the Delta Whistler Hotel retrofitted 205 rooms with the Energex system.  It was found that between March 2011 and March 2012, the system led to a decrease of 18% in natural gas/electricity use for heating and cooling. Additional Whistler hotels that have retrofitted their guest rooms with the technology include the Coast, Listel, and Holiday Inn Express.

On the mountain, Whistler Blackcomb has taken considerable steps to reduce energy consumption.  Initiatives include upgrading lift stations with more efficient lighting; installing sub-meters to monitor energy consumption on lifts and gondolas; and the development of a Workplace Conservation Awareness program.  These initiative and more are projected to save over 5 million kWh of electricity per year.

Reducing energy consumption at an expanding tourist destination is not easy.  However, an increasing number of buildings and on mountain services have adopted to integrate energy efficiency and conservation measures in their operations.  With the help of innovative technology and smart management decisions, our energy conservation targets are becoming increasingly attainable.

– Story by Lisa Dekleer

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