Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

ALTERNATIVES TO FOSSIL FUELS ARE THERE – Research scientist Alberto Suarez-Esteban (left) and Blair Hogan of the Teslin Tlingit Council are seen at last week’s Clean Tech workshop.

Workshop debates 21st-century energy solutions

Old Crow burns about 2.5 million litres of diesel fuel every year for heat and electricity.

By Chuck Tobin on March 12, 2018

Old Crow burns about 2.5 million litres of diesel fuel every year for heat and electricity.

It all arrives by airplane, 6,000 litres at a time, and it’s not cheap.

Every time Air North’s Hawker-Siddeley lands in the only Yukon community not served by roads, it’s a reminder of the dependency on fossil fuels.

So it was explained last Thursday at a two-day Clean Tech workshop, a workshop to discuss available and emerging technology in alternative forms of energy.

The potential of energy from biomass – wood – was discussed at length at the Whitehorse event.

The benefits and challenges of operating electric vehicles in the North was on the agenda.

Janna Swales of the Yukon Transportation Museum showed the audience a picture of the first electric vehicle in the Yukon – Dawson City, late 1800s.

Common among the presentations was the viability, the enthusiasm, of achieving energy solutions that do not include fossil fuels.

Coun. Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation told of Old Crow told of how the community is acutely aware of climate change and the need to generate cleaner energy.

The solar project that’s already passed through the environmental screening stage will provide enough electricity on favourable days from April to September days that they’ll be able to turn off the diesel generators, he told the audience.

He said Old Crow looked at wind generation a few years back but found it was not feasible.

With six kilometres from the preferred location to the community and at $1 million a kilometre of transmission line, it was too expensive, he said.

Tizya-Tramm said costs, however, are coming down.

“We are very confident we will be able to complement solar with wind,” he told the audience.

The councillor also highlighted the research going into biomass to displace heating fuel.

Research scientist Alberto Suarez-Esteban of the Cold Climate Innovation centre at Yukon College said they are currently looking at the potential of using alders and willows to supply biomass fuel or wood chips for Old Crow.

There’s not much cord wood in the Arctic, and the community is worried about the security of what they do have and use for firewood, he told the audience.

Suarez-Esteban said the research is indicating there are ample volumes of shrubs within a four-kilometre radius of Old Crow to offset an estimated 700,000 litres or 70 per cent of the one million litres used for heating every year.

There’s no revegetation required because the root systems of the willows and alders will remain intact, and regrowth will occur naturally, he explained.

The research scientist said it’s not likely feasible to provide district heating as they’re doing in Teslin because permafrost prevents distribution pipes from being buried.

It is feasible to provide stand-alone boilers fuelled by biomass for the larger public and institutional buildings like the school and administrative offices of the Vuntut Gwitchin, he said.

Suarez-Esteban said if the opportunities to displace heating fuel with biomass were maximized, he expects the community could shave off 700,000 litres or 70 per cent of one million litres used for heating.

Money saved on diesel could be redirected to creating jobs in the maintenance of the wood boilers and operating systems, along with providing the supply of biomass, Tizya-Tramm told the audience.

The Vuntut Gwitchin councillor said you would not have to use chain saws to harvest the willows and alders because they’re small enough to be cut efficiently with an axe.

Old Crow is moving toward meeting its energy needs with a holistic approach and a responsible transition off fossil fuel, said Tizya-Tramm.

The Kluane First Nation is already tapping into biomass and solar to offset its carbon footprint.

As well, there are plans to host a ground-breaking ceremony on Aboriginal Day, June 21, to celebrate the future installation of three wind turbines. The project has already been screened and approved.

In Teslin, district heating supplied by wood boilers fuelled by wood chips produced locally is happening now.

Blair Hogan of the Teslin Tlingit Council told the audience they’ve started by focusing on heating the larger First Nation and government buildings but will eventually move on to supplying residential clusters.

Hogan said maintaining a local stream of wood chips creates jobs, saves the community money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

“Every 10 years, it is going to put $1 million back into the community that otherwise would have left,” he said.

Hogan pointed out when the sawmill was operating, the biggest challenge was the wood.

The stems of the typical trees being harvested in the Teslin area are tapered to the point that only about 40 per cent of the tree is good for dimensional lumber, leaving a good deal of waste wood behind, he explained.

Hogan suggested having a new value for the waste adds to the sawmill’s business case, and there are plans to get back operating.

Myles Thorp is a local consultant and executive director of the Yukon Wood Products Association.

He told the audience there is an opportunity to take a big bite out of the $50 million spent annually on heating fuel in the territory.

It requires commitment and a change in thinking, but the opportunity is real and it’s time to get on with it, he told the audience.

Thorp said the government, for instance, needs to begin assigning value to trees that are removed during FireSmart initiatives, so that the wood is salvaged and not just burned up.

When the City of Whitehorse cleared the lot for its new municipal services building off Range Road, it simply pushed up all the trees into wind rows, Thorp pointed out by showing the audience a photograph he took of the site.

Had the city chosen to heat the building with biomass, Thorp said, the cleared wood alone would have generated three of four years of fuel.

Promoting the use of biomass for heat creates community-based economic development, he said.

“And it’s right here in the Yukon.”

Comments (6)

Up 0 Down 0

Werner Rhein on Mar 17, 2018 at 4:17 pm

This workshop was a good step forward in the right direction to divest from fossil fuels.
Why where there two other alternative energy technologies never mentioned?
Wood gasification and Ground Source Heat Pumps, both are fitting ideal for the needs of the Yukon.
Ground source heat is often talked about Geothermal Heat, this is incorrect.
Geothermal heat comes from deep down from the mantle of this earth and is way more than what we need and can use in the Yukon, unless it comes to the surface, like in hot springs.
There is lately a lot of talks and another useless study done and money wasted in the Yukon.
Ground Source Heat comes from the crust of the earth and is basically solar heat.
GSHP take the low heat and convert it up to usable heat to heat buildings or newer pumps can even create 60°C domestic hot water.
They work like your fridge or freezer, just the other way around.
So why was there no talk about this inexpensive source of energy talked about at that workshop?
Am I the only one who knows about this?

Up 0 Down 2

Great work folks on Mar 13, 2018 at 11:19 am

Smart thinking.
Wilf Carter

Up 0 Down 1

how about a road? on Mar 13, 2018 at 11:12 am

Can someone please explain why there is no road/power poles/alternate means of power generation at Old Crow?

The article states 2.5M liters of diesel per year. With an estimated population of about 250 people, that is 10,000 liters of diesel per man, woman and child. That is INSANE.

What prompted the government not to consider a road years ago?

Up 2 Down 0

BnR on Mar 13, 2018 at 6:51 am

"The potential of energy from biomass – wood – was discussed at length at the Whitehorse event".
Whenever I fly into Old Crow, I always look down and marvel at the vast expanse of forest.........

Up 1 Down 1

Josey Wales on Mar 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Just burn money.
Like we do now.

Up 6 Down 0

north_of_60 on Mar 12, 2018 at 3:34 pm

District heating in permafrost areas is quite feasible with above ground 'utilidors' as they’re doing in many places in the Arctic. There is no reason distribution pipes have to be buried. The 'research scientist' obviously hasn't been doing much research, since capturing waste heat from the diesel-fueled generators and heating nearby buildings with a small district heating loop has always been technically feasible, however heating fuel has always been cheaper.

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