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PORTLAND-The developer of a massive chilled water air conditioning plant being installed atop a building in the Brewery Blocks redevelopment project hopes to replace individual air conditioning units in office buildings on the north end of Downtown. At build out, the $15 million plant could cool six million sf of commercial space.

The developer is Portland Energy Solutions, a young affiliate of Portland General Electric being funded by Portland General Holdings, all of which are under the Enron umbrella. Portland Energy Solutions General Manager Gary Heikkinen tells GlobeSt.com PES got its break by joining forces early on with Brewery Blocks developer Gerding Edlen Development.

In the first phase of the project, two 30-foot-tall water cooling towers are being hoisted onto the roof of one of the Brewery Block buildings this week while a system of distribution pipelines is being built into the three-level, two-and-a-half block underground parking garage that will service the 1.8-million-sf, five-block redevelopment project. PES is leasing space for the system and Gerding Edlen will use the cooling plant to provide air conditioning for its entire project.

“Most of the larger buildings in downtown Portland have older chilled water equipment in them and simply hooking up to our system is a low cost alternative to property owners replacing, operating and maintaining their own systems,” Heikkinen tells GlobeSt.com.

Heikkinen estimates a 300,000-sf office building could avoid between $500,000 and $1 million in up front costs by connecting to Puget Energy Solutions air conditioning plant rather than upgrading their own system. After that, says Heikkinen, the cost of service — between 50 cents and $1 per sf per year, depending on the size of the building — is comparable to a building owner operating and maintaining its own independent system.

The air conditioning plant will be powered by electricity, says Heikkinen, but because of its size, when operating close to capacity, it will be much more efficient than if each of the buildings it services powered its own chilling system. The Portland energy Solutions Plant, at build out, will be able to produce 14 thousand tons of cooling capacity. A residential unit, by comparison, provides two to three tons of cooling.

A few dozen cities in North America are said to have district-wide cooling systems operating or in the works. The PES system will be the first in the Northwest. If all goes as planned, Heikkinen says the first extension of the distribution lines beyond Gerding Edlen’s project will be across Burnside Street and then down Southeast Stark Street to Sixth Avenue. More rooftop chillers — up to eight — would be added to handle the increased business.

“We are still in the final design stages of the Stark extension, but we already have some contracts in hand,” says Heikkinen, acknowledging that PES is already searching for a second plant location on the south end of Downtown. Heikkinen also says his company would love to get in on the ground floor of any redevelopment effort along North Macadam, if and when it ever comes to fruition.

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