New $20M fund to get remote communities off diesel

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The federal government has revealed a $20 million fund designed to help Canada's most isolated communities move away from diesel fuel.

Diesel is currently by far the most common means of power generation for dozens of remote communities across the three territories.

The new fund, named the Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative, will let communities apply for funding to try other solutions.

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The North's continued reliance on diesel is seen as a major obstacle in Canada's quest to meet emissions reduction targets.

Northwest Territories politicians have previously warned Ottawa that the NWT's own emissions reduction goals will only be met with major federal investment in projects designed to provide cleaner, cheaper energy, like the $1 billion-plus Taltson hydro expansion.

However, even the Taltson project would not help many of the NWT's smaller communities to move away from diesel.

'Meaningful contribution'

The fund was announced by federal natural resources minister Amarjeet Sohi in Whitehorse on Wednesday.

"Diesel fuel, though reliable, has negative environmental, social and economic impacts in northern and remote communities," read a federal government statement.

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"Investing in clean energy to reduce reliance on diesel can support Indigenous communities leading the way to a clean energy future and makes a small but meaningful contribution to self-determination."

The Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative will operate as follows:

  • Applications can be submitted by people in (or with "strong ties" to) remote, Indigenous communities that aren't connected to the grid;
  • An all-Indigenous panel of jurors selects up to 15 communities "to receive hands-on support" and up to $1.3 million each in funding over three years;
  • After that, an unspecified number of "leading communities" will get two more years of funding to keep moving their project forward.

Applications need to be submitted via the program's website by the end of March 15, 2019.

Wednesday's announcement did not specify the exact nature of the solutions the program and its jury expect to receive.

"The approach has to be flexible and nimble enough," Sohi told Cabin Radio by phone.

"Some communities may have a good understanding of their emissions profile, some may not. Our approach is not going to be a cookie-cutter approach but more adapting to the local realities."

Communities in the NWT have in the past employed various strategies to begin moving away from diesel.

Colville Lake, for example, has since 2016 provided power to its small population of around 150 people through a hybrid diesel and solar system.

The territorial government is investing in a wind power project in Inuvik, while geothermal energy was being considered in Fort Liard until the project stalled several years ago.

Sohi hopes the 15 projects selected will lead the way for other communities in future.

"What we envision is that those 15 initiatives, once they are fully developed – other communities that may not qualify for funding will be able to duplicate those initiatives and adapt them to their own realities," he said.