New "Eco District" Part of Avista's Catalyst Building Plan

Feb 12, 2018

McKinstry's Dean Allen explains the "eco district" concept during the public announcement of Avista's Catalyst Building plans.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Last week Avista announced plans to create what it calls its Catalyst Building along East Sprague in Spokane’s University District. It’s a facility the company hopes will drive economic development in the district. It will be a state-of-the-art building in terms of energy, with solar panels on the roof, to reduce or eliminate its need for outside power.

As part of that, the Catalyst Building is also expected to serve as the first piece of something called an "eco district."

Dean Allen from the innovation firm McKinstry says eco districts are new to Spokane, but not to other parts of the world. He says cities, businesses or other entities work together to provide for each other’s energy needs. In many European cities, he says, it’s common.

“The advantage of that is you can have a pretty high-performing centralized system and then each building doesn’t have to buy its own boiler and its own systems and often those smaller systems aren’t as efficient,” Allen said.

Allen’s company, which is based in Seattle but has an office in Spokane, has even been part of the development of an eco district. It worked with Amazon as it builds its huge complex in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. He says Amazon was looking for a cost-efficient way to heat its new buildings.

“Across the street, another great customer of McKinstry’s, Clise, operates a very large data center, a 40-story building filled with computers and servers," Allen said. "We linked the desire of the data center to reject heat with the desire for Amazon to heat their buildings and heat their spheres and we actually piped the excess heat from the Clise data center buildings across the street and into the mechanical systems of Amazon’s headquarters.”

In Spokane, Allen says the eco district would be based around an energy hub.

“So the concept is that we’ll have what will look like a pretty good sized central plant and that plant will be matched to a series of buildings that can be built or will be built over a period of time in the south University District," he said.

Allen says Avista and McKinstry will build and operate the central plant. He expects businesses would then connect to it to trade energy, both heating and cooling.

“It might be heating domestic water for showers or store that heat for other times of the day and really getting the performance optimized across those buildings,” Allen said.

Though Allen expects newer buildings to make up most of the eco district, he says existing buildings could also potentially be tied in. In the future, he envisions several eco districts serving different neighborhoods in the region.

Construction on the Catalyst Building is scheduled to start in the fall and take about 18 months.

Hear more of Doug Nadvornick's interview with Dean Allen on Inland Journal (Thursday at noon on KPBX; Thursday at 5 pm on KSFC).