Nunatsiavut energy program addresses heat insecurity

Hopedale, one of five communities in Nunatsiavut. Photo by Jessica Winters.

The Nunatsiavut government is undertaking several clean energy projects to bring heat and electricity to remote Inuit communities along the northern coast of Labrador.

With the help of $2.8 million in federal funding, the community-led initiatives will also reduce reliance on fossil fuels for heat and power, while supporting new economic opportunities and creating a sustainable energy system for Nunatsiavut.

“One of the key findings of the Nunatsiavut government’s energy security strategy, which was approved by our legislature in 2017, was that heat insecurity, what we defined as access to clean, affordable and reliable heat, is by far the most pressing energy-related challenge facing the Nunatsiavut Inuit,” says Nick Mercer, regional energy coordinator with the Nunatsiavut government. “It suggested that upwards of 60 per cent of people in the land claim area are living in inadequately heated homes.”

Households typically require about seven cords of wood throughout the winter. Photo by Jessica Winters.

About two thirds of people in Nunatsiavut currently use wood as their primary source of heat, with oil furnaces as a secondary source, followed by baseboard electric heating. The communities also rely on diesel generators for electricity, which Mercer says when combined with stove oil amounts to about seven million litres of diesel fuel per year.

In May the Nunatsiavut government launched the High Efficiency Wood Stoves Replacement Program to help address the issue. Under the initiative, the government will purchase and install 240 high-efficiency woodstoves (beginning with 100 this year) in the territory’s five communities, replacing old, inefficient units. Once applications close in July there will be mandatory house inspections to ensure it is safe and cost-effective to proceed, and according to Mercer, installations will be completed by an HVAC contractor in the fall and early winter once the job has gone to tender. “It has been a very in demand program and we’ve received a substantial number of applications,” he says.

Through public tender the government has chosen Mount Pearl, NL-based Venture Vacuums and Fireplaces as its preferred vendor and is purchasing 95 Blaze King 40s, and five Blaze King Sirocco 30.2 catalytic freestanding woodstoves. “These stoves typically reduce wood consumption about 33 per cent, so they make a major dent in the quantity and supply of firewood that’s needed to fuel them,” says Mercer. “And they’re EPA certified, so they make a major difference in local air quality in terms of the amount of particulate matter that they’re emitting.”

A rendering of the Nain Wind Microgrid Project, the region’s first commercial renewable energy project.

Mercer says residents typically require about seven cords of wood throughout the winter, which can be a difficult task considering the time and labour required to harvest, haul, split and stack fire wood. A pilot project called the  Nunatsiavut Firewood Supply Chain Network, operated by Titjaluk Logistics in Nain and Hopedale, Nunatsiavut, and Roddickton, NL, successfully proved that bringing affordable firewood from Newfoundland to Nunatsiavut  residents was feasible, and Mercer says the government continues negotiations with other private sector     companies including Titjaluk for future wood supply.

The 50-kilowatt solar installation in Makkovik is a net metering project that reduces diesel consumption in the community by between 11,000 and 14,000 L annually.

As well as its woodstove initiative, the Nunatsiavut government is wrapping up a FEED study in support of the Nain Wind Microgrid Project, the first commercial renewable energy project in the region. “The study will wrap up within the next two fiscal quarters, and then we plan on proceeding to civil construction and turbine erection in summer 2022,” says Mercer.

Another small-scale renewable energy installation in Nunatsiavut, a 50 kilowatt solar installation in Makkovik built for local consumption, has also been a major success, and Mercer says the government intends to “launch an open tender in mid-June for four 20 kilowatt solar PV projects for each community that doesn’t already have a solar project, so Nain, Hopedale, Postville and Rigolet.” Mercer anticipates construction on the projects will proceed through the fall before the annual December freeze.

For more information visit the Government of Nunatsiavut.