Increasing renewable energy generation in Canada’s remote communities

By Nelson Debogorski

4 min read

In Canada’s North, nearly 300 communities, or about 200,000 people, aren’t connected to the electricity grid and depend primarily on diesel fuel to generate their heat and power. Diesel generation is reliable but also costly, dangerous to ship, and harmful to the environment when burned for energy through the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). As such, there is an ongoing effort, supported by federal, provincial and territorial governments, to transition these communities from diesel power to a mix of more renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower or biomass. Since 2012 Ausenco has utilized its local presence in Canada’s North to collaborate with communities, including Indigenous nations, to help decrease the reliance on diesel in the north, to the extent practical.

In this article, we examine examples of renewable energy opportunities in Canada’s North and how the region is moving towards energy independence.

The case for renewable energy in Canada’s North

To date, many of the renewable energy projects developed in Canada’s North are significantly smaller in scale than those developed in other parts of the country. They are also more expensive to construct for a variety of reasons such as their remote locations and harsh climates. Historically, many of these renewable energy projects have lacked economic feasibility but have been constructed with financial subsidies from governments. With the ever-decreasing costs of developing renewable projects, the need for those subsidies are also continuing to decrease.

Governments have a socio-political interest in supporting energy independence in Canada’s North. Renewable energy projects align with the Federal Government’s goal of decreasing GHG emissions, reaching our Paris Agreement commitments, and improving electricity and heating infrastructure in remote communities. It also supports the creation of sustainable employment opportunities assisting in northern population growth.

A good example of how renewable energy projects can support these goals is the Southern Lakes Enhanced Storage Concept in Yukon. Southern Lakes is the largest watershed in the territory, managed partially as a reservoir for Yukon Energy. Yukon Energy aims to increase the amount of water used to generate renewable electricity at the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Station in the winter and early spring when electrical demand is at the highest, displacing diesel and decreasing harmful emissions.

The project’s environmental and socio-economic assessment, which we coordinated, included Territorial and federal regulatory processes, aboriginal consultation and involved about two dozen internal and sub-contractor technical specialists. The Yukon government is set to make a decision on the project shortly, which includes mitigation measures for issues identified during consultation activities. The project is expected to provide enough hydroelectrical energy to power 500 homes, reduce GHG emissions by 3,100 tonnes annually, and save taxpayers $1 million per year in diesel and natural gas costs.

Another example is the Inuvik Wind Project, which will provide renewable energy to the town of Inuvik, north of the Arctic Circle. Electrical generation in the community of Inuvik is currently provided by diesel and natural gas. The wind project — which includes the construction and operation of a 3.5 megawatt wind turbine, an all-season road, transmission line, electrical system upgrades and an energy storage system — is a key initiative in the Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT’s) 2030 Energy Strategy to reduce fossil fuel consumption in remote NWT communities.

Ausenco worked with the GNWT, under the Nihtat Corporation (an aboriginal company), to design and permit the project through baseline data collection, community/Indigenous engagement and assessment and permitting. It is anticipated that the project will offset 3 million liters of diesel annually, resulting in $3.4 million savings from reduced diesel consumption and 6,500 tonne reduction of GHGs.

Working toward energy independence

We take great pride in our work helping communities in Canada’s North take the much-needed steps towards energy independence. We work with stakeholders to ensure communities are actively engaged in their energy needs and choices and actively seek to understand how indigenous groups want to be engaged and proceed with engagement in a way that reflects their goals and values.

Based on years of experience, our team understands the risks and challenges of developing renewable projects in remote northern communities – and appreciates that each has its own set of unique values, traditions, priorities, concerns and regulatory requirements. Ausenco’s staff, located in our Whitehorse and Yellowknife offices, provide local knowledge, technical expertise and a deep understanding of the regulatory process to ensure projects are developed safely, responsibly, cost-effectively, and get regulatory approval.

Our experience

Ausenco is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river, and associated transmission projects. Our dedicated team has earned a reputation as an industry leader in providing exceptional community engagement, social sciences and regulatory expertise to renewable stakeholders. We value community engagement that recognizes stakeholder culture and values and understand that meaningful stakeholder input is an integral component to a project.

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