For decades, off-grid First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities have sought alternatives to diesel-based energy. The Inuit community of Inukjuak in northern Quebec, for example, has been diligently developing a small hydro project to replace diesel fuel used for power and heating.
There is good news on the horizon. Through the foresight of Indigenous leaders and increasing receptivity on the part of utilities and governments, Canada is on the cusp of a northern energy revolution. New investment is being committed to cleaner energy technologies in remote communities countrywide, anchored to three key pillars.
The first is to adopt an integrated approach by building energy-efficient homes and optimizing the potential of local renewable wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy resources. Gull Bay First Nation located north of Thunder Bay has embraced such an approach. The community will bring Canada’s first remote renewable energy microgrid online this spring and is also implementing an energy efficiency program.
Second, it is essential that Indigenous Peoples play a central leadership role in developing clean energy to meet their needs. Proactive community planning and engagement is proving to be much more effective than top-down directives of the past. In an era of reconciliation, it is also the right thing to do. The Vuntut Gwitchin government of Old Crow, Yukon will break ground on a solar power array with partners this coming summer to replace diesel fuel now being delivered by airplane.
Third, forging partnerships between Indigenous organizations, utilities and developers is of critical importance; drawing on the know-how of clean energy companies and the local knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The pioneering efforts of Watay Partnership in northern Ontario, comprised of 22 First Nations and a private energy company, is bringing power to communities like Pikangikum with new electricity transmission infrastructure. In Nain, on the east coast of Labrador, the Inuit Nunatsiavut government along with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is planning to erect wind turbines to reduce diesel reliance.