Oil Town building carbon neutral community powered by 100% renewables

Artist rendering of Blatchford. Courtesy, City of Edmonton

Given that Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg has shone a harsh light on air travel, there’s a certain cosmic elegance in the City of Edmonton’s ambitious plans for a 536-acre decommissioned airport site, just minutes from the downtown. Construction crews last year began working on the first phase of Blatchford, a master-planned, mixed-use community that will rise from the sprawling former tarmac over the next 25 years.

What distinguishes this brownfield project isn’t just the size (which happens to be roughly the same as Edmonton’s current downtown). When it’s completed, it will be one of the largest purpose-built sustainable communities in the world, according to municipal officials.

The City of Edmonton, acting as the developer, is rolling out an ambitious low-carbon development strategy that will produce a denser, greener, bike- and pedestrian-friendly community that will feature its own district energy utility, two LRT stops and dwellings built to demanding green-building-code standards. And in a city prone to flooding, the replacement of acres of tarmac with new permeable green spaces (including an 80-acre park) will provide additional benefit. Once complete, Blatchford is expected to be home to 30,000 people (with “homes for all stages of life,” including affordable housing), as well as offices and retail shops in a walkable town centre.

Christian Felske, the city official in charge of Blatchford’s renewable energy portfolio, says the district is designed to be completely carbon neutral. Its energy will be entirely renewable, produced by a combination of solar, sewer heat recovery and geothermal heat, all of it built atop a smart grid. A typical Blatchford townhouse – the largest available dwelling unit – will use about a third of the energy consumed by comparably sized homes elsewhere in Edmonton.

The district energy utility, which will be owned by the city, will distribute heating and cooling to structures connected to a geothermal pipe network. It will become not only the largest such installation in Canada but a way of showcasing the local geothermal sector.

The design has previously attracted controversy as some geothermal experts criticized the techniques employed by the contractor installing the system. But Felske says they’ve taken a “very staged and prudent approach in terms of delivering the site.”

In later phases, Blatchford will also include systems that recover waste heat from sewers. Adds Felske, “As the land development grows, the utility will grow.”

Toronto journalist John Lorinc writes about cities, sustainability and business.



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