Surrey's successful green scene

Surrey City Manager Vince Lalonde stands inside the geothermal facility that has been built beneath Surrey’s new city hall. Thermal energy – in the form of steam or heated or cooled water – is distributed through a network of pipes to heat, cool and provide hot water for the City Centre Library, Surrey City Hall, and 3 Civic Plaza, a 50-storey mixed-use hotel and residential project.   - Evan Seal / The Leader
Surrey City Manager Vince Lalonde stands inside the geothermal facility that has been built beneath Surrey’s new city hall. Thermal energy – in the form of steam or heated or cooled water – is distributed through a network of pipes to heat, cool and provide hot water for the City Centre Library, Surrey City Hall, and 3 Civic Plaza, a 50-storey mixed-use hotel and residential project.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

The beef scraps, salad remnants and bones tossed from the plate will soon be powering the truck hauling your weekly garbage away.

The bio-energy plan is just one of several ecologically friendly initiatives fuelled by the creation of the Sustainability Charter in Surrey, which requires that all developments must consider the environment, economics and socio-cultural issues.

“In everything we do, we need to do as much as we possibly can to balance those pieces off,” Mayor Dianne Watts said. “Innovation was key for us, so in every one of our (new) buildings, we had to see how we could reduce our carbon footprint.”

The bio-energy technology – turning food waste into fuel – was borrowed from Europe, which the city first began considering six years ago.

It’s been a slow but determined go, and Surrey engineers say it should be up and running in late 2016 or early 2017.

Shortly after deciding on the new direction, Surrey signed a contract with BFI Canada requiring the garbage-hauling company to only use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) trucks to pick up the city’s waste.

The decision, and subsequent contract, paved the way for a sea change in the way residential waste is picked up and treated.

Soon, all organic waste (food scraps, garden clippings, etc.) will be trucked off to a $68-million organics “biofuel” facility in Port Kells.

The facility won’t cost local taxpayers anything, city staff say, as it will be a public-private partnership and the federal government is paying for 25 per cent of the construction costs.

Surrey’s portion will be funded through the savings of not hauling organic waste elsewhere.

When the biofuel facility is running, the off-gas will be collected and used to power the 42 CNG trucks performing Surrey’s curbside trash pick-up.

Surrey will be one of North America’s first cities to have garbage trucks powered by green waste. The aim is to have a less-detrimental impact on the environment.

The CNG-powered trucks emit 23 per cent less carbon and 90 per cent less air particulates compared to traditional diesel trucks, city officials say.

Studies show replacing one diesel truck with a CNG model is the equivalent to taking 475 cars off the road.


Reducing emissions, generating profit

The City of Surrey emits 16Electirc car logo,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) annually, about one-third of which (4,986 metric tonnes CO2e) comes from the use of diesel fuel.

Once the bio-waste system is online, the diesel CO2e coming from curbside pick-up will drop to zero.

The system also has the benefit of reducing truck fuel costs and potentially generating a tidy profit from city waste. Any methane biogas not used by the city’s trucks will be sold to Fortis BC.

“Seventy per cent of our garbage is not going to a landfill,” Watts said. “It’s repurposed into fuelling our garbage trucks as biofuel.”

Surrey’s green vision is being heralded nationally. In 2013, Surrey was honoured at the Community Energy Builder Awards, winning the local government category for its initiative on the use of waste gas in powering garbage trucks.

At the awards, Surrey was described as a Canadian leader in the advancement of clean energy systems. In February of this year, Surrey received top honours from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for reducing landfill-bound garbage by more than 40 per cent.


Thinking green from the ground up

The organic biofuel facility isn’t the only major environmental project on the go in Surrey.

Plans for District Energy (DE) systems are underway. The DE systems will distribute thermal energy – in the form of steam or heated or cooled water – through a network of pipes to heat, cool and provide hot water for the City Centre Library, the new Surrey City Hall, and 3 Civic Plaza, a 50-storey mixed-use hotel and residential project.

In addition, several nearby residential towers are expected to tap into the network. The new city hall is already using the system.

DE is considered “clean energy” and helps to conserve power through improved efficiency over conventional heating and cooling systems. DEs do not contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The process uses pipes deep underground, where water is heated by the Earth and then piped into buildings to reduce the reliance on conventional heating.

In addition, waste heat from high-energy users, such as ice rinks, pools and industrial customers, can be recaptured and easily redistributed to other users in the system.

The city is also exploring the possibility of establishing DE systems near the Gateway and King George SkyTrain stations, as well as Grandview Heights and Campbell Heights, where there are current and future plans for industrial, commercial and high-density residential development.

The idea came just months after a commitment by city council to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

In 2008, Surrey signed on to the B.C. Climate Action Plan, promising to significantly cut GHGs by 2012. Signing onto the plan also meant Surrey must measure and report its emissions and create compact, more energy-efficient communities.

Vincent Lalonde, Surrey’s City Manager, says implementing DE systems is an important step on several fronts.

“District Energy is really a long-term commitment by the city,” Lalonde said. “It really revolves around energy resiliency for our city, greenhouse gas reduction, rate stability...”

It also leads to “high-quality buildings,” he said.

Watts acknowledges that having a green vision comes at a cost, but she said it’s far better to spend the dollars now, rather than having to redesign existing buildings at a much greater cost in the future.

“Part of the challenge is, once a city is built out, you have to go back and retrofit them,” Watts said. “And the cost is significantly more.”

Surrey is a young, growing city, which offers the opportunity to build “green” buildings and systems from the ground up.

Charging ahead

The city’s environmental eneElectric car charging station at Surrey City Hallrgy policies have also hit the road, with 13 electric car charging stations now in place.

These Level 2 charging stations will fully charge a car in four to six hours.

In addition, the province has installed a DC Fast Charge station in Cloverdale at the Surrey Museum (7710 56A Ave). It can fully charge a vehicle in less than half an hour.

The DC Fast Charge station forms part of the northern leg of a “green highway” stretching south to California.

Fast-charge stations have also opened in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Duncan Squamish and Merritt.

Seven more – in Vancouver (Telus World of Science), Langley Township (Langley Events Centre on 200 Street), North Vancouver (Lower Lonsdale), North Vancouver District, Whistler, Saanich and Hope – opened last month under the $1.3-million program.

Fast-charge stations are more plentiful in U.S. states along the coast, but some are proprietary – reserved only for Tesla cars, for example – while the BC Hydro-led chargers here accommodate a wide range of electric vehicles.

More than 450 Level 2 chargers – the ones that take several hours but are considered ideal for commuters – have been installed across B.C. under the province’s $14.3-million Clean Energy Vehicle Program, made available last year.

Like the site in Surrey, other fast-charge stations are being built in partnership with BC Hydro and local cities. The charging stations will be free to use for the foreseeable future.

The Surrey Museum station is the first available charge point north of the U.S. border for electric-powered American motorists heading into Canada.

There are only about 700 electric vehicles in B.C., but thousands more are expected to arrive in the years ahead, albeit at a slower pace than previously thought.

(For a map of locations of plug-in sites in Metro Vancouver, see or


Some of the other steps Surrey is taking with the health of the environment in mind include:

• Developing policies related to building use, and incorporating alternative energy systems where feasible;

• Reducing the city's vehicle fleet and analyzing the cost benefits of alternative fuels;

• Initiating green purchasing policies and practices;

• Implementing and publicizing green infrastructure pilot projects;

• Committing to the Climate Change Action Plan.

The Climate Action Charter is a voluntary agreement between municipalities and the province;

• Implementing a municipal electric vehicle pilot program, which replaces gas-powered vehicles within the city's fleet.

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