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FortisBC studies switching Revelstoke from propane to LNG

A FortisBC gas meter and assembly in Revelstoke. FortisBC is studying the possibility of switching Revelstoke
A FortisBC gas meter and assembly in Revelstoke. FortisBC is studying the possibility of switching Revelstoke's gas system from propane to natural gas supplied via LNG containers.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review

The company that operates the underground gas pipeline network in Revelstoke is studying the possibility of switching from propane to natural gas.

FortisBC spokesperson Michael Allison confirmed the utility is in the very early stages of studying the business case for the switchover.

Currently, FortisBC uses a bank of large propane storage tanks located in the industrial park on Powerhouse Road to feed an underground network that was installed just over 20 years ago. (Fortis didn’t have the exact date.)

The propane is shipped in by rail, and the tanks are refilled via a rail spur line that runs behind the Powerhouse Road property.

Spokesperson Michael Allison explained the reason FortisBC is considering the switch is cost.

“We would be exploring this to save customers money,” Allison said.

Propane prices are rising, and long-term forecasts call for increased prices for the gas, which is a by-product of oil refining.

Natural gas prices are trending in the opposite direction. “We do see a long-term continued decrease in natural gas prices,” Allison said.

So, is FortisBC building a 100-odd kilometre pipeline from the nearest distribution point in Salmon Arm? No, Allison said: “That is not economically feasible.”

He said FortisBC had looked into the pipeline, but it wasn’t considering it due to cost.

Whistler switched from propane to natural gas in 2009, after upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway for the 2010 Olympics made piggybacking a new pipeline from the Lower Mainland economically viable, Allison said.

What FortisBC is studying is bringing in a relatively new system to Revelstoke – likely the first of its kind in B.C. if it were to proceed.

The gas utility is proposing using rail-based “isotainers” filled with liquified natural gas – known as LNG – to feed the gas network. LNG is natural gas that has been processed, cooled and condensed into a super-cold liquid state.

The tanks would be brought to the existing facility, feeding the network from there. The tanks are a cylinder that is contained by a reinforced steel frame.

This story was initiated when the Times Review called FortisBC, after hearing about a possible study. Allison emphasized the study is in really early stages, and the conversion is far from certain.

When Whistler switched over to natural gas in 2009, they reduced gas-related emissions by 15 per cent and gas costs were reduced by 20 per cent at the time. Allison said the current cost reduction is higher and forecast to increase because the price of the two different types of gasses are heading in opposite directions.

However, it’s not possible to calculate potential savings in Revelstoke because an apples-to-apples comparison isn’t available.

Whistler is on the gas pipeline network, which is governed by a complex regulatory framework. The proposed, relatively new LNG technology for Revelstoke will have different costs, and will also have to gain approvals through regulators, such as the B.C. Utilities Commission – which approves a final price.

Until that study is done, any potential cost benefit is unknown; Allison restated that FortisBC is exploring the plan to see if they can save customers money.

If the switch is made, customers will need to convert their appliances to adjust to the change. FortisBC is responsible for the gas line up to and including the meter, but it would be the residents’ responsibility to deal with an appropriate contractor for anything inside their property.

 

 

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