The Impact of Diesel Generation on Aboriginal Remote Communities

The electricity generation experience for a remote First Nation Community is generally poor among such communities in Canada regardless of governments’ best efforts in the past. For example in Ontario, remote settlements are connected only to diesel generation stations which distribute energy to a local “island” distribution network.  There is no backup system interconnection or other generation for them. If it fails, the lights go out. While this equipment is maintained regularly by Hydro One Remote Communities, power failures are frequent due to the nature of the environment and the age of the installed generation units.   

Diesel fuel supply is one of the largest issues facing a community powered with diesel generation. In many Northern Ontario communities, getting it there means trucking, using road access only in the winter when temporary ice roads are created over frozen lakes which allow access for 6 to 10 weeks. This means that these communities only have a narrow window within which they can transport their required diesel fuel by road for the entire year. If the community cannot store enough fuel until the next ice road season then it must be flown in at extremely high cost. Usually, they are able to get 30-40% of what they need by ice road, and the rest is always flown up in special bladders installed in planes.

From an environmental perspective, not only does generation with fossil fuel, (diesel), cause significant air pollution, fuel handling represents a major ongoing environmental challenge for remote communities as the risk of fuel spills occurs at many points during the supply chain.  And many spills “do occur”!

  • A typical small community of 500 residents might experience the following impacts while living with diesel generation:
  • Inhabitants can expect the power to go out on average once a week
  • Diesel is stored at least 3 kilometers from the community resulting in a restoration delay if the generators   require refueling.
  • On a cold winter day one generator may require 3000 liters of fuel to run continuously.
  • Depending on consumption, each community will require hundreds of thousands of liters of fuel, (perhaps millions). This fuel will require shipment over ice roads and   storage in community tanks.
  •  If flown in by small aircraft, diesel fuel will arrive in bladders requiring pump transfer to trucks for transport to off-site storage tanks. Spills are common in the transfer of diesel.
  • Electricity use is often curtailed with certain uses limited altogether, (Christmas lights), as the ‘island’ system may be operating at close to its peak generating capacity. Thus there is often little capacity for new uses.

These examples are a small sample of the challenges that these communities face. Costs are the second huge problem.  In Northern Ontario electricity costs for electricity range from $1.10 to $1.50 /kWh compared to $0.10-$0.20/kWh elsewhere in the province.  Even though government rate policy puts a cap on the total price/kWh to each hydro customer, the highest rate of $0.97/kWh remains a major financial challenge to remote communities. The result of this, currently in Ontario, is that up to 40% of First Nation community budgets are diverted to pay for electricity, crowding out education and health budget allocations. Furthermore the Ontario ratepayers are contributing $175M a year to subsidize these rates down from real cost to the posted rate schedule, which is clearly not getting the job of non-discriminatory access to electricity done.

This is a big problem that is begging for a solution.  Mitigokaa has an answer and is prepared to invest time, experience, and money, to solve these problems.