This article was published by the Canada Energy Regulator on Feb. 15, 2023.
There are approximately 178 remote Indigenous(1) and Northern(2) communities that are not connected to the North American electricity grid and natural gas infrastructure. All-year road access is only available in some of these communities, and over half are fly-in only.
These remote communities generally rely on diesel fuel for electricity generation and home heating. Exceptions for electricity generation include the primarily hydroelectric-based regional grids in Yukon and around the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories (NWT).(3) Exceptions for heating include Inuvik and Norman Wells in NWT, where natural gas (locally supplied or liquified and trucked-in) is used for heating. Some buildings may also have the option of heating with propane, biomass (wood pellets), or electricity (via resistance or heat pumps).
Figure 1: Map of remote Indigenous and Northern communities in Canada and their primary source for electricity
Indigenous Clean Energy Projects
|Sree Vyàa (Old Crow Solar Project)
Old Crow, Yukon
Population (2021): 221
Status: Operational in 2021
The fly-in community of Old Crow relies on diesel for heat and electricity. With no barge or winter road access, diesel is delivered by plane four times a year and stored in above ground tanks. The project, from ATCO Electric Yukon, includes 940 kilowatts (kW) of solar modules and 616 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of battery storage.Footnote4 Sree Vyàa will reduce diesel demand by an estimated 190,000 litres annually.(5)
Population (2021): 590
Status: Operational in 2022
The hamlet of Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta relies on diesel for heat and electricity. In 2021, Nihtat Energy Ltd. completed a 150 kW solar array install that is expected to reduce annual diesel demand by an estimated 26,000 litres.
Population (2021): 3,243
Status: Operational in 2023
Inuvik generates electricity with liquefied natural gas and diesel.(6) A one megawatt (MW) solar project from Nihtat Energy Ltd. began construction in 2022 and is expected to be operational in 2023. The project is expected to reduce annual diesel demand by an estimated 130,000 litres.
|Gjoa Haven Clean Energy Implementation
Gjoa Haven, Nunavut
Population (2021): 1,324
Gjoa Haven is an Inuit hamlet on King William Island. The project,(7) announced in June 2022, will install energy-efficient measures in all residential homes, solar panels on cabins, and promote heat pump clothes dryers. Solar modules will be installed on the community hall and heritage centre. For this project, Gjoa Haven is working in partnership with the territorial utility, Qulliq Energy Corporation (QEC), the Arctic Renewables Society, and the Hamlet of Gjoa Haven Businesses. The project is expected to reduce annual diesel consumption by roughly 140,000 litres per year.
|Arviat Clean Energy Microgrid
Population (2021): 2,657
Status: Operational in 2023
The hamlet of Arviat on the coast of Hudson Bay is entirely reliant on diesel for electricity and heat. NRStor proposed a microgrid solution for Arviat consisting of a 200 kW solar array, 1.6 MW wind farm, and 2.0 megawatt-hours (MWh) of battery storage. Over 20 years, the microgrid is expected to reduce diesel demand by an estimated 30 million litres. The hamlet will own the project along with NRStor, with revenues earned by selling the clean energy to QEC.
|Bella Bella Heat Pump Project
Bella Bella, British Columbia (BC)
Population (2021): 1,019
Status: Ongoing, pilot started in 2018
Bella Bella is a remote community on Campbell Island, off the coast of mainland BC, that is primarily reliant on diesel for home heating. Electricity is generated by a small hydro-based microgrid (Ocean Falls) that is not connected to the North American grid. The project involves the replacement of diesel furnaces with more efficient heat pumps(8) that run on electricity. Each heat pump is expected to save a household 2,000 litres of diesel fuel and over $1,500 for heating costs annually. Of the 410 homes in the community, over 159 have made the switch by 2021.(9) In 2022, an additional 120 homes switched to heat pumps, with the remaining homes planning to switch by spring 2023.
|Tsay Keh Dene Biomass Project
Tsay Keh Dene, BC
Population (2021): 230
Status: Awaiting final investment decision
Tsay Keh Dene is diesel-dependent remote community located at the northern end of the Williston Reservoir in northern BC. It is located 200 kilometres northwest from the massive 2,730 MW W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which holds back the waters of the reservoir. The biomass plant, currently in its second iteration, is being designed by BBA Consulting.(10) The initial goal of 100 per cent diesel displacement of Tsay Keh Dene’s annual diesel demand of 1 million litres has been reduced to 55 per cent with the second iteration. The biomass will be sourced from debris in the reservoir, wildfire mitigation projects, and residuals and waste wood from timber harvesting.
|Three Nations Energy (3NE)
Fort Chipewyan, Alberta
Population (2021): 853
Status: Completed 2020
Fort Chipewyan is a community in northern Alberta at the western end of Lake Athabasca. The 3NE Solar Farm is the largest solar farm in a remote community in Canada at 2.2 MW. The project effectively replaces 25 per cent of the community’s diesel demand for electricity generation, or 800,000 litres annually. 3NE was designed and built by Canadian Utilities (ATCO), and is fully owned by Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Fort Chipewyan Métis Local 125.
|Pikangikum Power Line Project
Population (2021): 2,720
Status: Completed in 2018
Pikangikum is one of the largest remote Indigenous communities in Ontario. In 2018, the community was able to eliminate its reliance on diesel for electricity generation. As a part of the First Nation-led Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project, Pikangikum became the first of 14 remote Indigenous communities in the region to get connected to the North American electricity grid. Wataynikaneyap Power (Watay Power) is equally owned by 24 First Nations communities (51 per cent), including Pikangikum First Nation, and in partnership with Fortis Inc and other private investors (49 per cent).
|Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project
17 remote Indigenous communities in Northwestern Ontario
Population (2021): 10,820
Status: Ongoing, complete in 2024
The later phases of the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project involve the connection of an additional 16 First Nations communities(11) in northwestern Ontario. The communities are located across a large area north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake and most lack all-season roads. In 2022, a 300 km long, 115 kilovolt (kV) line between Dinorwic and Pickle Lake had been upgraded to 230 kV.(12)In addition to providing clean and reliable power from Ontario’s low carbon intensity grid, the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project is expected to offset 25 million litres of diesel fuel annually. In 2021, the project was awarded the Clean50 Top Project(13) for the year. The entire project is expected to be operational in mid-2024.
|Fort Severn Solar Project
Fort Severn, Ontario
Population (2021): 546
Status: Completed in 2021
Fort Severn is the northernmost community in Ontario, located near Hudson Bay. A 300 kW solar installation is expected to reduce diesel demand by approximately 20 per cent,(14) or 400,000 litres annually. Hedgehog Technologies were hired as the project managers, and the solar farm is owned by Fort Severn First Nation.
|Giizis Energy Microgrid
Gull Bay, Ontario
Population (2021): 392
Status: Completed in 2019
Gull Bay is a diesel-dependent community located on the western shores of Lake Nipigon. In the early 20th century, five hydroelectric dams were constructed on waterways in the region without any consultation or community involvement. No electricity was provided to the community. In 2014, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Gull Bay reached a settlement through negotiations and a reconciliation path forward. The solar-diesel hybrid microgrid consists of a 360 kW solar array and 500 kWh battery. The microgrid is expected to offset 25 per cent of annual diesel demand,(15) or 110,000 litres. The project was co-developed by Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek/Gull Bay First Nation and OPG.(16)
|Animiki Ickote Project
Population (2021): 274
Status: Expected in 2025/26
Kitcisakik is a small community in western Quebec on the shores of the Dozois Reservoir. The community lacks centralized generation, and its 400 residents instead rely on portable diesel generators for electricity. Animiki Ickote, the Anishinaabe words for thunder and fire, which combined translate as electricity involves the connection of the community(17) to the Quebec electricity grid with a 70 km, 25 kV line. Hydro-Québec will construct and operate the line. Additional work will be done to connect every home to the new system.
|Nain Wind Power Micro-Grid
Population (2021): 1,125
Status: Expected in 2023
Nain is the northernmost community in Labrador. Located on the coast, the town is reliant on diesel for heating and electricity. The Nunatsiavut Government and Natural Forces Development Limited Partnership have proposed the construction of two wind turbines, with an approximate capacity of 1.8 to 2.3 MW and a battery system. The project has an ambitious target of offsetting 35 per cent to 50 per cent of annual diesel consumption for electricity,(18) or one million litres. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2023.
|High Efficiency Woodstove Replacement Program
Population (2021): 2,558
Status: Completed in 2022
The Nunatsiavut Government installed 240 high-efficiency woodstoves(19) to reduce reliance on diesel for home heating in five coastal Nunatsiavut communities.(20)(21) The woodstove installation is expected to displace an estimated 1.5 million litres of diesel fuel annually.
Diesel’s role in remote communities
Since most remote communities are far from refineries, diesel fuel must be hauled long distances by truck over all-year or seasonal (winter/ice) roads, ship or barge on waterways, or plane. In these communities, refined products are stored in large above-ground storage tanks and delivered to customers by trucks.
Diesel has advantages for remote communities. It provides a reliable source of non-variable heat and power in extreme climates. The fuel is also easy to transport and can be stored for long periods of time.
However, diesel also has its disadvantages. The fuel is expensive to purchase and transport and its high cost is often subsidized to make it affordable for residents in remote communities.(22) The fuel is carbon- and particulate-emitting, resulting in local air quality issues. It can leak or spill(23) in storage, during transport, and from home tanks. Lastly, aging generators can also fail(24)(25) when needed most. Often with only one primary power source, a generator interruption could leave a remote community without power for an unknown period.
Upcoming energy projects
Many remote Indigenous and Northern communities across Canada are implementing projects to reduce or eliminate their reliance on diesel for electricity and/or heating needs. What follows is a selected list of recent, current, and future projects to show the diverse nature of these clean energy solutions.(26)
This list of projects is intended to provide a cross-section of the varied and unique solutions to reduce remote Indigenous and Northern communities’ reliance on diesel. For communities presently powered and heated by diesel, options are very limited for complete diesel elimination. Through grid connections and building retrofits, some communities may be able to eliminate all diesel use. However, communities in very remote locations may need to wait for technological advancements, partnerships, and investments for diesel elimination solutions.(27)
Increasingly, Indigenous communities are assuming ownership and control of renewable energy projects, leading the way to a clean energy future.(28)(29) Investing in clean energy solutions that reduce reliance on diesel fuel will support remote communities as they work to enhance their energy security and make small but meaningful contributions to self-determination and Reconciliation.