RENEWABLE ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES IN REMOTE NWT COMMUNITIES
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By Cori Marshall
Canada is a vast territory, the second largest in the world behind the Russian Federation. Much of the land is uninhabited, and most Canadians live within a couple of hours drive of the border with the United States. But while most of the population can be found near the southern border, there are remote northern communities across the country.
These remote communities have unique challenges that southern populations do not face. Access and provisioning are linked and are significant concerns. Many of these settlements do not have an all-season road and rely heavily on ice roads and fly-ins. The difficulty in accessing these areas drives prices of everyday goods up, bringing the cost of living with it.
Energy production is another primary concern for remote and northern communities. Populations in these situations rely heavily on diesel fuel to produce their electricity. According to the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) website, the average retail price of diesel in the country was 122.2 cents per litre (2017/12/05). The price is up 13.8 cents per litre from the beginning of the year.
WaterToday has looked at the opportunities for renewable energy projects in Canada’s remote and northern communities assessing large vs small wind turbines, biomass, and solar. Now we begin our look at these communities, how they are producing their energy currently, and what form of renewable energy is desired, and would be most beneficial to these communities.
We spoke with D’Arcy Nyvak, Team Administrator for the community of Wrigley Pehdzeh Ki. He said that power is all produced by "diesel generators." It is difficult to get the fuel into Wrigley, "it is trucked in, across two ferries in the summer and on ice road in the winter."
The community is situated on the east bank of the Mackenzie River and has a population of 119 who maintain a traditional lifestyle. Wrigley Pehdzeh Ki is supplied power from Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC).
According to the NTPC website "power is supplied by three diesel generating units with a total output of 781 kW."
Currently, there is no production of energy from renewable sources in the community, though there is interest. Nyvak said that they are "looking at smaller projects, for example we are getting solar power light poles." They have looked at solar and "were told that it was not economical." There is currently no plan to move away from energy produced from fossil fuels to a renewable source.
Joseph Kochon, Senior Administrative Officer in Behdzi Ahda, or Colville Lake, said the "energy infrastructure is wholly owned by NTPC who has worked with the community to incorporate solar energy." He added that "overall it reduces the overhead cost for Colville Lake Community Power Corporation annually by reducing the consumption of diesel fuel."
Kochon explained that they "are merely in [their] second year of the current system and we continue to seek ways to reduce energy bills for our larger community buildings, which have not changed regardless of the solar energy project." The community is working on the installation of solar panels in the larger buildings and "NTPC has agreed to limited credits back into the grid," Kochon said.
The situation is that Colville Lake is "still in the exploratory stage [of producing] alternative energy, we shall continue our quest," Kochon said, "solar [energy] can only be produced with the sun, and during the winter months of December to February we get limited sun, so how we fill the gap is a question we need to resolve in our long-term plans."
We also spoke with Judal Dominicata, the Senior Administrative Officer for the Community Government of Gamèti. All energy in Gamèti is produced using diesel and costs $1.40 a litre in the community. Dominicata said that the community desires to move away from the use of fossil fuels and that they are looking at "hydro, wind, solar and wood," as the most beneficial.
The community has developed a green energy plan with the Arctic Energy Alliance. The hydroelectric initiative is still looking to see if the source is sufficient, and Dominicata said that there is "a building where solar is used, and a wood burner is to be tried next year."
The major hurdle in the way of bringing a completely renewable energy project to the community of Gamèti is "funding" Dominicata said.
John Holland, the Senior Administrative Officer (SAO) for the Hamlet of Paulatuk, said "NTPC uses diesel generators with fuel delivered by barge as part of the annual sealift." There is currently no production of energy from renewable sources in the community, and "no plan [has been] developed," Holland added.
The SAO said that the "community would like to move away from energy produced by fossil fuels, solar and wind probably would be the most beneficial."
Of the communities we contacted in the Northwest Territories, 18 are supplied by NTPC, and according to their website residents who are serviced by the corporation pay an $18 service fee, 29.65 cents per kWh up to 1000 kWh, and 60.83 cents for each additional kWh.
Comparatively, Ontarians only pay 13.2 cents per kWh on-peak hours. There is a big difference in how much place electricity consumption has on a monthly budget. The communities that we reached out to are in similar situations, they want to move towards renewable energy, yet lack planning and funding to see the projects to completion.