Kicking the diesel habit
Oil prices drive communities to look for alternatives to OPEC dependency

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 10/00) - With the price of oil reaching all-time highs, so goes the price of powering our communities with diesel fuel generated power systems.

The North consumes millions of litres of the imported fuel each year to heat our homes and power our lights.

Communities are starting to look for alternatives to the high price of this petroleum.

Energy consultants Jack Van Camp and Dennis Bevington own Stand Alone Energy Systems in Fort Smith. They say there is no one solution to kicking the fossil fuel habit, but a combination solar, wind and bio-mass (wood) systems can reduce or eliminate our dependency.

"We can start by designing our facilities to make much better use of solar heat gain and we can add solar heat components onto existing buildings, which can add 20 per cent of building heat requirements," Van Camp said.

Buildings can be made much more efficient by upgrading insulation, installing better doors and windows, Van Camp added.

Bevington said the boreal forest is an energy source the North has yet to tap. With clean-burning, efficient wood stoves and forest management, wood is very much a renewable energy source.

"Biomass heating is virtually neglected up here, other than at a residential level for a variety of reasons, but we think that a lot of these are technical issues that we think we can resolve," Bevington said. "Biomass is considered to be a green fuel; it's not considered to be adding to the CO2 problems in our atmosphere.

"We really have to rethink the energy value of the forest," he added. "How the forest is managed is the big thing."

Van Camp and Bevington say the heat loss in generating diesel power is a huge waste of energy that could be remedied by combining heat and power generation.

"In the process of generating electricity in most of the communities, we produce a lot of heat as a byproduct," Van Camp explained. "In most cases, that heat is just vented into the environment. We need to locate our electrical generating equipment around the community so that you can take advantage of that heat."

Heat recovery is not that efficient from diesel power plants, they explained, with maximum recovery about 60-65 per cent.

They have researched more efficient systems.

"We're looking at systems that include micro-turbines and fuel cells, where the combined energy recovery is more in the neighbourhood of 80 to 90 per cent," Bevington said.

With bio mass and hydro systems a good alternative for the communities below the treeline, Bevington said wind is the way to go up North.

"In the High Arctic communities we think that wind can provide both heat and electrical energy," Bevington said. "It's much easier to store wind energy as heat than anything else, because you can capture wind energy, convert it to electricity and store it as heat for when the wind isn't blowing."

Gassing up

With an abundance of natural gas in the territory and a vision of a pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley, leaders are looking at the possibility of leading the line into smaller communities along the route south.

Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo said the possibility of using natural gas for heat and to generate power is very much a reality.

"I think this is an ideal opportunity," Nerysoo said. "There's nothing to suggest that we can't improve our ability to change the way we generate power.

"In some cases, we might even be able to generate power out of a single location, with larger capacity rather than small individual community-based facilities," he said.

As well as providing a more cost-effective supply of heat and electricity, Nerysoo said the gas is also a much cleaner fuel source.

"It's an opportunity for us to clean up the way we do business in the communities."

Nellie Cournoyea, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, said the IRC is in the preliminary stages of studying the feasibility of feeding natural gas to smaller communities from a larger pipeline.

"We're just discussing that issue, but of course you have to look at the issue of pricing. People are very susceptible to that and we have to look at the method of delivery; where there is opportunity, definitely natural gas is definitely an option," Cournoyea said.

The price of fuel is always the primary initiative for consumers, Cournoyea said, but there is a bonus with natural gas.

"All major users and consumers are supporting the pipeline and the reason why is because of the high price of oil and the need to find alternatives to less pollutant fuel and natural gas is cleaner," she said.

Inuvik has already converted its power supply to natural gas and despite a few growing pains, the residents are enjoying the benefits of the cheaper, cleaner fuel.

Cournoyea said the process could be duplicated, but the source must be close enough to the consumer to be viable.

"As a developing organization, we took a very giant leap to invest in putting gas in Inuvik, because of the close proximity to town," she explained. "And wherever possible, I would say that that would be important to expand on.

"All these options have to be explored, but wherever possible these alternatives should be entertained," Cournoyea added.

Chief Leroy Andre of the Deline Dene Band says residents of his community burns a lot of wood to heat their homes and the band is examining alternatives to the present electrical system.

"We've got someone doing some work for us now on the economic feasibility of owning our own power plant," Andre said. "They are almost finished the study, but they say there are a lot of good alternatives available."

Andre said the community may seek to source their own power.

"We wanted to have our power plant moved, but the Power Corp. wouldn't budge on it," he said, adding the Power Corp. offered to build a new plant, but charge it back to the community.

"If that's the case, we might as well build it ourselves."