Many northern and remote Indigenous communities rely on diesel power for heat and electricity—despite the many negative impacts diesel can have on our environment and health. But thanks to projects like the ERAAES, or Environmental Remediation and Alternative Energy Systems, communities like Northlands Dënesųłiné First Nation will be divesting from diesel power, installing solar, biomass, and geothermal heating systems, cleaning up contaminated sites, and empowering residents to take leadership roles in alternative energy.
Realizing Renewable Energy in Indigenous Communities
For many northern and remote communities across Canada, access to affordable and reliable electricity isn’t a given. When living off-grid, isolated communities often rely on locally generated electricity, which typically comes from diesel-powered generators. This alternative provides the electricity and heat communities need to survive Canada’s harsh winters, but also comes with a heavy cost.
Diesel and diesel emissions have a negative impact not only on our environment, but also on our bodies. Northern communities already struggle with contaminated soil and water due to improper management or overdue maintenance of diesel-powered items. Diesel spills can enter our waterways and contaminate drinking water. Diesel emissions add to an increase of atmospheric soot and particulate matter in the air and are linked to the development of cancer as well as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.
It’s time to start taking steps to eliminate diesel dependency and investing in clean, renewable energy in Indigenous communities — and that’s exactly what the Environmental Remediation and Alternative Energy Systems (ERAAES) project in Northlands Dënesųłiné First Nation is accomplishing.
Situated on the shores of Lac Brochet, Northlands Dënesųłiné First Nation is a remote settlement in northern Manitoba and is just one of over 150 diesel-dependent communities across Canada. Every year, once the winter road opens, about two million litres of diesel are delivered to the community for their heat and electricity needs.
Starting in 2017, the ERAAES project has worked to reduce and eventually eliminate this dependency.
ERAAES includes six components:
- Remediation of two diesel-contaminated sites in the community;
- The supply and installation of a District Energy Biomass Heating System;
- The supply and installation of an in-lake Geothermal District Energy System;
- The supply and installation of a Solar PV array to offset the electricity consumption of the Biomass and Geothermal Systems, as well as a new aerated sewage lagoon in the community;
- Integration between these three new energy systems (Biomass, Geothermal & PV) and with the community’s existing heating and electricity systems; and
- The establishment of a Biomass Harvesting Operation from nearby forested areas burnt by fire.
By the end of 2019, the ERAAES project will have replaced approximately 1/3 of the diesel used for heat in Northlands First Nation, reducing the community’s GHG emissions by approximately 800 tonnes. And more GHGs will be removed from processes in future years.
This project has also been designed so that much of the remediation and construction work can be done by community members and, in turn, create permanent local jobs and ownership around harvesting and processing the biomass to maintain these three energy systems. The ultimate goal is to achieve zero net emissions—a laudable and ambitious target. This will make Northlands Dënesųłiné First Nation a leader in terms of renewable energy in Indigenous communities and a working example for other northern communities to emulate and even duplicate.
Much like Scout’s now five-year-old Tundra Take-Back program, projects like these empower northern communities and equip community members with the knowledge and tools to remediate harmful contaminants. They help people take steps to not only repair the health of their land, but take leadership roles in healthy environmental solutions. The spirit of these programs is the same: provide hands-on, in-field training; give the people most affected the tools they need to improve their lives; and watch how small changes can amount to profound differences.
To learn more about how Scout is equipping northern and remote Indigenous communities for success, please visit our Areas of Expertise page, or discover more about Tundra Take-Back directly at www.TundraTakeBack.ca.
— Post by Scout Program Manager Rob Lines