The economic feasibility of replacing diesel with renewable energy resources in remote First Nation communities in Northern Ontario
Master of Science
DisciplineNatural Resources Management
Solar and wind power
Electricity production in remote northern Ontario First Nation communities
MetadataShow full item record
Ontario has many First Nation communities in the remote northern region that use diesel fuel to generate part or the whole of their energy requirements. There is a huge financial and environmental cost associated with shipping diesel fuel by air transport in the spring, summer, and autumn months and over ice roads during winter months to these remote communities. A significant portion of the electricity produced from diesel fuel is used to heat community buildings and homes during the extreme cold winters in the remote northern Ontario region. Biomass district heating is a cleaner and sustainable heat source commonly used in European communities. However, biomass has not been used successfully in Ontario for district heating, despite the existence of plentiful forest biomass resources. Solar and wind power, representing cleaner and renewable energy opportunities, have grown in Ontario since the introduction of the Green Energy Act in 2009. The purpose of this thesis research was to determine the socio-economic feasibility and benefits associated with using forest biomass for district heating combined with solar and wind power for electricity production in remote northern Ontario First Nation communities to offset part of the current energy load. Two remote First Nation communities, one an off-grid, fly-in community (Sachigo Lake) and the other an on-grid, drive-to community (Lac Seul), participated in the study. Information related to the present costs of energy in the communities, the types of heating devices used in the community buildings, and the forest resources available for biomass district heating was collected. Solar and wind resources were evaluated using publicly available wind and solar maps and commercially available tools and software. A specialized Forest Resource Inventory was also done in both communities. Solar resources were evaluated and measured in both communities to determine actual average sun hours per day. The site data was used to evaluate average annual savings for different solar power scenarios in each community, along with the cost of a project, which was factored into payback time calculation in years. Analysis suggests that there is a sufficient sustainable supply of biomass available for both communities for use in biomass district heating, and the payback time for the off-grid community is much shorter than for the on-grid community. Lac Seul First Nation has forestry operations in the reserve and crown forest and should be able to access equipment and personnel as well as possibly biomass residues from a nearby sawmill for biomass heating. The Lac Seul arena currently has electric hydronic boilers that could be replaced by biomass boilers with solar thermal pre-heating as this site also has good solar resources. Sachigo Lake First Nation does not have forestry operations or a forest management plan but good solar resources at the school and at the diesel generator plant at the airport. Sachigo Lake First Nation pays the higher Standard “A” rate for diesel derived electricity and ample space at the airport for a ground-mounted solar array, and was found to have good potential saving and short payback times for a potential solar project. A full list of recommendations is found in the Conclusions and Recommendations section.