Utilities commission nixes Creative Energy plan, again

Regulator says it would have created a heating monopoly

Creative Energy owner Ian Gillespie | Dan Toulgoet, Vancouver Courier

Vancouver’s titan of towers was dealt a major setback in his hopes of becoming a green power pooh-bah.

A B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) tribunal decided September 26 to stick with its original decision to deny Creative Energy Vancouver Platforms Inc. a city hall-granted monopoly in Northeast False Creek and Chinatown. Creative is owned by Ian Gillespie, whose company, Westbank Projects, is known for developing Telus Gardens, Living Shangri-La and Fairmont Pacific Rim.

City hall wanted new residential and commercial buildings to connect to Creative’s system, which would have switched from natural gas to wood waste. Creative applied in April 2015 for approval of its neighbourhood energy agreement (NEA) with city hall and a certificate of public convenience and necessity to build a new neighbourhood energy system (NES) in Northeast False Creek and Chinatown. BCUC granted a certificate for Northeast False Creek, but did not approve the agreement. Creative filed for a reconsideration and variance in July.

“Given the existence of alternatives to an NES we don’t find the approval of the proposed NEA as being in the public interest because there are viable alternatives to creating a monopolistic energy provider,” said the written tribunal decision. “Further, we note that in denying this franchise agreement the City of Vancouver is not necessarily prevented from achieving its objective to establish a DES in the Northeast False Creek and Chinatown area.”

The panel said the city could use a loophole that allows the city to own and operate a district energy system, like it does in Southeast False Creek, or enact a separate bylaw.

Two divisions of FortisBC, the Commercial Energy Consumers Association of British Columbia, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, Sierra Club BC and Vancouver city hall submitted interventions. 

The Vision Vancouver majority city council chose Creative through a 2012 request for expressions of interest – not a full, open bidding process. City hall denied a request by Business in Vancouver for the staff report that recommended Creative, because it was presented at a closed meeting of city council. City hall signed a non-binding memorandum of agreement with Creative in November 2013. Creative’s plan is related to Vision’s controversial goal of banning fracked natural gas in Vancouver by 2050.

Gillespie bought the former Central Heat Distribution Ltd. for $32 million in 2014 and renamed it Creative Energy. Gillespie wants to build two towers above its 720 Beatty Street steam plant near B.C. Place Stadium. Gillespie briefly hired the former CEO of B.C. Pavilion Corporation, Dana Hayden, to lobby her former employer and the provincial government to sell land on B.C. Place’s east side. Gillespie met June 13 with Deputy Transportation Minister Grant Main, whose ministry is responsible for the stadium.