Bellingham studies new approaches for waterfront utilities

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 5, 2014 

Bellingham waterfront

City officials are considering how best to save water and energy costs for redeveloped property on the Bellingham waterfront. Among the possibilities: using two big tan ceramic tanks shown here, once used to store wood chips and bleach for Georgia-Pacific operations, to store waste heat from the nearby Puget Sound Energy power plant for use in waterfront buildings as a heating source.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - A redeveloped downtown waterfront could use some creative approaches to save water and energy costs.

At a Monday, May 5, session of the City Council's public works committee, city project engineer Freeman Anthony presented preliminary findings in a study of special systems to provide water, heating and perhaps electricity to the new buildings envisioned to be built on the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. waterfront mill site in the decades ahead.

Among the possibilities:

-- Use of untreated Lake Whatcom water from an existing industrial main that once served G-P, to provide a cheap source of water for irrigation and perhaps toilet-flushing. That would reduce demand for more costly drinking-quality water from the city's treatment plant. Puget Sound Energy is still using water from the industrial line at its natural gas-fired power plant in the waterfront area.

-- Creation of a system to carry waste heat from the PSE power plant to waterfront buildings as a heating source, enabling those buildings to be heated without additional combustion of fossil fuels. The two big tan ceramic tanks, once used to store wood chips and bleach for G-P operations, could perhaps be used for heat storage as part of such a system, Anthony said.

-- Installation of hydropower generators on the industrial water line to create a renewable electricity source.

Anthony told council members that the creation of a new development on Port of Bellingham property at the northern end of the old mill site provides the city with the opportunity to depart from standard city policy in extending conventional utilities to new developments.

Preliminary cost estimates for the projects indicate they may be feasible, and costs could be recovered in a reasonable number of years, Anthony said.

Examples, based on preliminary estimates Anthony supplied to council:

-- A system to supply the waterfront district with industrial water could cost about $2.3 million to build and $250,000 to operate, with an annual savings of about $800,000 realized from a 67 percent reduction in the amount of treated water that would otherwise be used.

-- A system to deliver waste heat from the generating plant might cost about $15 million, with annual energy savings that would recover both installation and maintenance costs in about 11 years.

A hydroelectric system using the flow of water through the industrial line - an idea that has been around for decades - would have to rely on use of runoff into the lake for water to spin its turbines. Anthony noted that with Nooksack River water rights now embroiled in controversy involving the city and local Indian tribes, among others, the city can't plan on diverting river water into the lake to add to the flow available to power electric generators.

That means the amount of power that could be generated is relatively small, making such a project less attractive.

Anthony said the city could choose to install these types of heating, water and power systems on its own, or could strike a partnership with a private company. As a third possibility, the city could turn such a project over to a private company if the terms of the deal were suitable.

Anthony said he expects to have waterfront utilities plan recommendations available for council review and approval by June or July.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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