With a hydro project years into development, the community of Inukjuak, in the remote northern Quebec Inuit homeland of Nunavik, is poised to be one of the first communities the Canadian North to transition off of diesel generators. However, astronomical construction costs and a utility system that favours fossil fuels is preventing the project from advancing, a multi-month investigation by Discourse Media reveals.
The federal government has earmarked up to $50 million in its upcoming February 2017 budget to transition remote communities off diesel power. This funding comes on the tail of Prime Minister Trudeau’s signing of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change in December 2016, a pact with eight provinces and three territories that promises to ramp up clean energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Discourse Media spent several months investigating the potential of and barriers to developing alternatives to diesel generators in communities in the diesel-dependent North. The investigation found that, while these communities are already significantly impacted by climate change, systemic barriers such as the artificially low price utilities are willing to pay for renewable energy is standing in the way of developing clean energy. As clean energy is stalling, the community continues to burn nearly three million litres of diesel a year to heat and light the community, contributing to a climate crisis that increasingly endangers their livelihoods.
Over 200 communities in Canada, many of them Indigenous, depend on diesel fuel for energy. Sheldon Nimchuk, who oversees clean energy projects for a subsidiary of the Nunavut-based Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, says many of the diesel generation stations across Northern Canada — in Nunavut, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavik — are now decades old, necessitating hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to keep the same plants humming. Nunavut alone has requested $250 million from Ottawa to replace and upgrade its diesel plants and infrastructure.
Discourse Media’s investigation led reporter Christopher Pollon to Inukjuak, where a proposed run-of-river hydro project could make the community one of the first in the Canadian North to offset its dependence on diesel fuel. If the project leaders can negotiate a clean energy price that takes into full account the real costs of diesel-powered generation, the floodgates could open in Nunavik and across the Canadian Arctic.
Just this one hydro project in Inukjuak is projected to cost almost $100 million to build, double what the federal government has earmarked in its 2017 budget. With a major investment required to update aging diesel facilities, Nimchuk told Discourse Media: “Would it make sense for the government of Canada to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade [diesel] facilities, or is the time right to move that money to clean energy projects as a contribution from Canada toward addressing climate change in the Arctic?”
Read the full investigation “What will it take to get Canada’s Arctic off diesel?”
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Lindsay Sample, managing editor, Discourse Media
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