Wuikinuxv Nation rallied together last month to reduce energy use and restart their grid after the recently commissioned Nicknaqueet Hydropower Project and back-up diesel generator could not meet energy demand.
The remote community in River’s Inlet completed construction on their run-of-the-river project this year but below average water flow in the Nicknaqueet River forced the use of their backup 125kW diesel generator. After a spike in energy demand, the generator lost power resulting in a community-wide blackout. In the midst of the blackout water pumps couldn’t run, leaving the community without running water in the middle of wildfire season.
Power was only restored after the community pulled together to reduce load by turning off all non-essential electrical equipment. Community members championing energy efficiency went door-to-door to coordinate this effort, showing the spirit of this community to come together and find solutions to challenges.
Even before the Nicknaqueet Hydropower Project was constructed, production forecasts predicted that there would be energy shortfalls each autumn when river flows are low. To try and address this, Wuikinuxv Nation started working with Community Power to learn how to reduce their energy consumption. Home energy education was followed by an energy-saving home retrofit pilot project where homes successfully reduced their energy consumption by 24%. Retrofits saved each home an average of $4700 in energy costs each year. Community Members have celebrated how their retrofitted homes are now more comfortable, healthy and safe.
Restricted resources meant only three homes were funded for retrofits, but Community Power was able to stretch the funding awarded through Indigenous Services Canada to upgrade four homes. With the energy savings the retrofits generated, home upgrades had an investment payback of only 3.4 years. The upgrade pilot provided a pathway for Wuikinuxv Nation to reduce community demand by the 10% needed to meet their year-round energy needs through the hydro project.
Accessing funding to retrofit more homes has proven a challenge for the community. Instead of reducing energy waste and improving homes, Wuikinuxv administrators are currently forced to seek out a larger capacity generator to meet present energy needs. A new generator will cost the Nation an estimated $30K and perpetuate the pattern of Nation funds being diverted away from community services and instead spent on costly diesel power production and maintenance.
With climate change making summers increasingly drier, run-of-the-river hydro will not be able to meet existing community energy demands or provide capacity for planned community economic and housing development. Without a holistic approach to addressing both energy demand and supply Wuikinuxv Nation is faced with an uncertain energy future, despite the $12.5 million invested in the Nicknaqueet River Hydro Project.
To move forward, Wuikinuxv is actively working to both grow economic opportunity and reduce energy waste. The Nation is using their local lumber products to build new homes so that more Nation Members move home and support economic development initiatives. Leadership has applied for funding to formulate a Construction Policy that will ensure that all new homes are energy efficient.