Virtual training program helping Łutsël K’é go diesel-free


Twelve members of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation will spend three months learning how to operate and maintain a clean power plant.

The virtual program uses tools from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Haroon Bhatti, the Denesoline Corporation’s innovations manager, said Łutsël K’é residents “can take their energy needs into their own hands.”

Moving away from diesel to other sources of power is an ambition for many NWT communities. Some, like Łutsël K’é, already have solar grids.

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“It’s important to ease off slowly on diesel because of things like climate change, the ice melting much earlier in the season,” said Bhatti.

“That has had huge impacts on Indigenous people having access to their ancestral lands. We feel like renewable energy is the way forward, especially in these small communities.” 

Bhatti said the First Nation, of which the Denesoline Corporation is the financial arm, aims to be completely off diesel by 2025 or 2026. The first step begins this coming summer, he said, with the installation of more solar panels that will account for 25 percent of Łutsël K’é’s energy needs. 

There are future plans to create a hybrid system using wind energy. The Denesoline Corporation and the institute were awarded $400,000 from Natural Resources Canada in July 2019 to study some options.

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The $1.2 million virtual training program is an initiative of the Digital Technology Supercluster, a consortium of private industry, high-tech start-ups, and post-secondary institutions based in BC.

Shawn Gervais, the supercluster’s vice president of foresight and talent development, said the training course will help grow Indigenous economies and has been designed specifically for small communities. 

Covid-19, Gervais said, made the supercluster’s staff ask: “Can we create platforms for training and physical infrastructure that enable people to learn without actually having to leave their community?”

Bhatti said the training in Łutsël K’é will take place in the Dene DreamMaker Innovation Centre, a hub in the community for emerging technologies like virtual reality and 3D printing. 

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The Denesoline Corporation hopes other Indigenous communities and mining operations in the NWT will be able to benefit from the program in the future and move away from fossil fuels. 

Meanwhile, the NWT Power Corporation is building a higher-efficiency diesel plant in Łutsël K’é to replace the community’s current, ageing plant. The federal government has committed to funding 75 percent of that project up to $8,775,000. 

Construction of the new diesel plant and upgrades to the local distribution system are expected to be complete by the end of September 2022.

The power corporation says it will discuss a power purchase agreement regarding renewable energy with Denesoline once that project proceeds.