WMC to get an energy overhaul courtesy of cogeneration project

Council approves $1.5-million project intended to significantly reduce operating costs over 20-year term

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Looking to reduce soaring operating and maintenance costs at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, the township will install heat-and-energy cogeneration equipment in the facility, along with a geothermal system for cooling and heating.

The $1.5-million project, to be financed largely through energy cost savings over the next 20 years, was approved this week by Woolwich council.

The plan calls for what’s known as a combined heat and power (CHP) system, which generates electricity and captures the heat that would otherwise be wasted to provide useful thermal energy, such as steam or hot water, that can be used for space heating, cooling, domestic hot water and industrial processes, says a report presented to council.

The technology will essentially increase the use of natural gas to generate both heat and electricity, providing a net savings in hydro costs. An extra $20,000 a year in natural gas expenses will result in savings of $58,000 annually due to what are currently much cheaper gas costs, said director of finance Richard Petherick.

With a payback period of 20 years, the township predicts it will save some $829,000 in energy costs over the life of the deal. Indirect savings are also expected due to reduced maintenance costs on the building’s existing boiler.

The project is the latest move to tackle issues that have plagued the building since its opening in 2009. The year after the WMC went into operation, the recreation department exceeded its budget by $550,000, or 14.6 per cent, largely due to higher-than-expected costs at the new multi-use facility in Elmira.

The township has dealt with a number of deficiencies, maintenance woes and high operating costs since day-one, many of them the result of cost-cutting measures imposed as the cost of building the facility increased from a $12-million budget when a new arena was first proposed to about twice that by the time it was completed. Measures have included replacing much of the lighting in the building, for example.

In discussing the CHP project Tuesday night, Coun. Mark Bauman noted the report calls for the replacement of the refrigeration plant that provides ice in the arenas and the replacement of the lights in the McLeod Arena, questioning whether the price tag included those money-saving moves.

Petherick responded, however, that those steps have been earmarked for a later date when the budget allows.

The refrigeration plant has been a sore spot since the building opened, requiring heavy maintenance and repair costs early and often, to go along with high operating costs from the start. The problems have been compounded by the fact the manufacturer of the system has since gone out of business.

Given the state of the nine-year-old building’s infrastructure, councillors were quick to endorse a plan that would help rein in costs.

“This is definitely needed at the WMC,” said Coun. Patrick Merlihan. “The payment plan works for us.”

Included in the project cost is a grant of $255,000 provided by the Independent Electricity System Operator through Waterloo North Hydro. The work itself, to be carried out before the end of 2020 under the terms of the grant, will be undertaken by Grand River Energy, a new venture launched by holding companies of the region’s three electrical utilities, Waterloo North Hydro, Kitchener Wilmot Hydro and Energy+, which are in turn owned by the municipalities.

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