A northern town that has created some peace. Cindy's blog Aug 9 2017




A  small northern town of about 150 people north of Great Bear Lake made history last year by becoming the first in the North to replace its ancient, inefficient diesel generator with a combination of diesel, batteries and a solar array capable of generating 160 kilowatts.

It’s a small solar station, but  Colville Lake banking so heavily on it makes it unique. There are other communities that have large solar arrays, but the uniqueness of this installation is that it’s in a remote community. It’s not on a grid, so you don’t have the grid to help you smooth out any bumps.

The project is being carefully watched.

Power is a big issue across the North. Outside of Yukon’s hydroelectric development, most Canadian Arctic communities depend on giant diesel generators that get their expensive, high-carbon fuel delivered over ice roads and on barges. Biomass, also known as “wood stoves”, heats many homes.

A 2015 Senate committee concluded northern electricity systems are “aging, underperforming and at capacity.” Northern premiers regularly request federal funds to deal with the problem. The idea in Colville Lake was to use diesel as a backup and during the winter, and turn to the sun for everything else. Twelve months later, that’s about how it’s worked out, Myra Berrube, of Northwest Territories Power Corp. said.

“During periods when the batteries are loaded up or we’re getting good production out of the solar facility, we can, in fact, turn off the diesel. The community has made comment that it’s quiet.”

Berrube said about one-fifth of the town’s annual energy use now comes from the sun, even though the panels produce almost nothing between November and January. Just as important, the batteries allow more efficient operation of the diesel generator.

The corporation estimates that Colville Lake ran the generator at least 27 per cent less, saving it more than 37,000 litres of diesel fuel. It is also a vast improvement over the old generator, which shut down an average of 31 times a year.

Colville Lake could be a glimpse of the future.

You have to note here that the Colville solution is expensive. The total cost was about $8 million and required $1.3 million in government funding. Calculations on how long it will take for the savings in diesel to pay for the solar panels haven’t been done yet.

But people love the new arrangement. The superintendent of Colville Lakes unique solar-diesel power plant, Alvin Orlias, notes that it is the quiet that he appreciates. Imagine growing up with the constant hum of a big deisel generator and now in the summer, it is peaceful.  “I come to work at 8:30 in the morning and it’s quiet. “I’m standing outside right now and it’s quiet,” said Orlias  “You can hear birds chirping in the background. The sun is out and generating power and powering the town.”

I am happy that Colville Lake is setting a positive example for our northern communities.  And not only is switching to renewable energy better for the air, the water and life around you, it is also good for the senses!

Colville Lake is a settlement corporation located in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The community is located 50 km north of the Arctic Circle, on a lake of the same name.