© Martha Lenio

Making the move to green energy in Nunavut

13 June 2019

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Arctic Check-up. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

For people living in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, diesel fuel is essential to their daily lives. Residents rely on it for heating, electricity and transportation. But diesel has a lot of drawbacks: it is expensive, pollutes the air, produces greenhouse gas emissions, and destroys habitats and ecosystems when it spills.

For almost four years, MARTHA LENIO and others at WWF-Canada in Iqaluit have focused on bringing green energy to the region as part of the Arctic Renewable Energy project. Lenio spoke to The Circle about the work WWF is doing with communities to help reduce their dependence on diesel and make the shift to renewables.

Why is it important to work at the community level to make this transition?

One of the big things is that we want these projects to be habitat-friendly and renewable—so they don’t have an impact on caribou, birds or other animals that people rely on. But the projects should also have social benefits for the community and result in jobs. For that to happen, people should be involved. The projects won’t be successful unless communities want them, understand them and see real benefits in the community from renewable energy.

Part of that is information: getting community members access to training programmes. There are also a lot of concerns like, “Do solar panels work in
the North? Do wind turbines work in the North? Is it just going to break?” So, we need to give people some hands-on training and the chance to see some of these projects in action. I think completing one or two pilot projects will make a big difference. Then people will be able to say, “Yeah, this is working. This can work in Nunavut.”

We want to have really thoughtful renewable energy projects in communities that work to bring down costs and make a difference in people’s lives.

How receptive are people to making this kind of change?

In general, they’re very receptive. Energy is expensive up here and the impacts of climate change are very real, so people realise that we need to make changes. People are very eager to learn and to hear about what the options are.

Can you tell us a little more about what you are doing in Gjoa Haven?

We asked people in Gjoa Haven what kinds of energy projects they wanted to see in their community. We started a list of 12 initiatives that the community wanted, then decided to focus on three of them: energy efficiency, wasted heat and solar energy. Our approach has been to start with some pilot projects, see how they work, and then expand them once we have a good grasp of how the finances will work. People in Gjoa Haven are also interested in starting an energy co-op. I’m really excited about that one in particular.

What is the energy co-op project?

The Gjoa Haven Energy Co-op aims to use commercially available technology designed to reduce diesel dependency. The idea is to have really thoughtful, renewable energy projects that work to bring down costs and make a difference in people’s lives.

Over two years, the co-operative will be formed by implementing three existing technologies: home energy monitoring, solar net metering and waste-to- heat energy. Personally, I think the home energy monitoring project is quite neat. It would focus on installing home energy monitors in people’s homes, and then people would have real-time information about how much energy they’re using and they could adjust their behaviour to try and lower their bills.

One of the challenges in Nunavut is that a lot of people live in social housing, so the housing corporation is actually paying the large majority of the energy costs in many of the communities. So with this project, we’re looking at creative ways to encourage people in social housing to decrease their energy use. This is one of the things we’ve come up with. We’re estimating that it will help bring electricity use down by 10 per cent.

What could other communities learn from the project in Gjoa Haven?

This project will have a lasting impact in both Gjoa Haven and Nunavut as a whole. The energy co-op will not only reduce people’s dependence on diesel, but it will empower energy literacy and create a better understanding of how energy projects that are operated through a co-op can be financially viable. Gjoa Haven’s experience in creating an energy co-op will provide a roadmap for other remote Arctic communities interested in doing the same thing.

Martha Lenio
Specialist, Renewable Energy, Arctic