Electric utility FortisBC wants to channel wasted heat from the Tolko lumber mill in Kelowna's North End and use it to heat big buildings downtown such as Prospera Place arena, the Dolphins, Lagoons and Skye condominium highrises and City Hall.
"It's early days of the plan," pointed out FortisBC corporate communications advisor Neal Pobran.
"But we've applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission to do it and we would hope for a decision in the spring. If all goes well construction could start shortly after that and take one year."
What needs to be built to make it happen is a $26-million thermal plant.
Before FortisBC gets a yes or no from the B.C. Utilities Commission there will be opportunities in the process where the public can give its input.
A thermal plant is basically a central point that would capture the heat that Tolko generates turning raw logs into lumber.
Tolko already harvests some of that heat for its own internal use heating other parts of the plant and offices that needs it.
But a lot of the heat is going to waste, so FortisBC sees the potential to make a commercial utility out of it.
"The thermal plant would take the hot air and convert it into hot water using an exchanger," explained Pobran.
"The hot water would be piped underground to buildings like City Hall, Prospera Place and the condo towers where another exchanger would be used to extract the heat from the water so it can be used for heating the buildings."
The City of Kelowna would be FortisBC's partner in the project, which is why City Hall and Prospera Place, a building with city ties, are on the list of buildings that could potentially be heated.
While the City of Kelowna is involved, taxpayer money will not be.
FortisBC will be paying for the plant, piping, other infrastructure and set up.
In return, it hopes to make money off the utility by charging for the heat.
Presumably the heat derived from the utility would be cheaper and more efficient than the electric heat, natural gas furnaces or mechanical systems some of the big buildings already have.
For any big new building that goes up downtown, hooking up to the thermal utility would mean the building could be built without its own expensive mechanical plant.
While the new utility would serve a small number of buildings over a small geographical area, the size of the buildings means a switch over could help the city reduce its 800,000 tonnes of annual greenhouse gases by five per cent.
That's considered a good starting point.