Saskatchewan’s last largely diesel-powered northern community wants to reduce its reliance on the fuel.
Tyler Jobb, a Southend contractor who runs Jobb Developments, is heading a project to establish a small clean energy system in Kinoosao – a remote Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation community located on Reindeer Lake near the Manitoba border.
He’s optimistic about the project’s prospects, but says the large distances and some of the difficulties organizing community gatherings during COVID-19 have slowed the effort slightly.
“Getting it plugged into the grid is pretty challenging,” he said.
In 2019, energy think tank Pembina Institute identified Kinoosao as the only community in the province that largely relied on diesel for its power. The report said it has about 60 residents.
On Tuesday, Natural Resources Canada announced Jobb’s work in Kinoosao is one of 14 projects to enter the second of four phases and receive $500,000 in a federal initiative to get Indigenous communities off diesel.
Jobb says the first phase began last year and centred on capacity building before entering into planning that he expects to finish this spring. The following two phases centre on implementation, and the project is expected to conclude in March 2024.
He’s not alone in building small grids for remote places. University of Saskatchewan engineering Professor Xiaodong Liang will receive $120,000 annually for five years to work with First Nations like PBCN to develop micro grid technology using alternative energy sources like wind and solar for remote communities that can’t connect to larger power systems.
Beyond its high emissions, she says diesel presents several issues: It’s difficult and costly to transport, and also carries the chance of spills. She says reducing diesel usage would also lower the cost of living for residents of small communities.
“If the renewable energy-based system is implemented, the cost will be much lower because they won’t rely on diesel so much,” she said.
She says there are some snags to implementing those plans. There may be challenges meeting unique community needs and maintaining the system. If those issues are overcome, it could improve quality of life in remote areas, she added.
Jobb agrees there are challenges like convening community gatherings during COVID-19 to move ahead with projects, but remote grids can bring their own benefits. They may address a range of other social issues connected to energy consumption.
He believes building retrofits and grid maintenance could be sources for local job growth.
“How do we improve our housing? How do we lower our cost of living? How do we improve our lives for our communities?” he said.
“When you think clean energy, it affects the whole realm. (All those challenges) kind of overlap.”
By Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, THE STARPHOENIX