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Remote communities adopt solar to reduce emissions

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    Remote communities adopt solar to reduce emissions SHANNON MONEO VICTORIA - Special to The Globe and Mail Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 01, 2009 02:48AM EDT
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1 7:24 AM
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      Remote communities adopt solar to reduce emissions
      SHANNON MONEO

      VICTORIA - Special to The Globe and Mail Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 01, 2009 02:48AM EDT

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/remote-communities-adopt-solar-to-reduce-emissions/article1201941/

      In isolated pockets of B.C., diesel generators roar day and night to create electricity for 30 remote aboriginal bands, pumping out over 48,400,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the air each year, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Energy.

      The communities represent at least 8,000 people living in 4,400 households who, because they are not connected to B.C. Hydro's grid, rely on diesel, the heaviest producer of carbon-dioxide emissions after coal and fuel oil.

      With a no-return road map laid out by B.C.'s one-year-old Climate Action Plan, bands realize they have to switch to greener energy sources. The plan says that in nine years, B.C.'s greenhouse-gas emissions must be 18 per cent less than 2007 levels and, by 2020, must be at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels.

      It's a heavy order, considering that electricity produced by diesel generators yields about one kilogram of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of power produced, said Jake Jacobs, Ministry of Energy spokesperson.

      With the average residential home using about 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, at that rate a diesel-reliant home would add 11,000 kilograms of CO{-2} into the air each year.

      A home using B.C. Hydro's hydroelectricity, meanwhile, would account for 350 kilograms of annual CO2 emissions, 1/30th the rate.

      One off-grid band, the Xeni Gwet'in, is weaning itself off diesel, a commodity that has been delivered every three weeks for the last 25 years from Williams Lake, 200 kilometres away.

      Nestled in the foothills of the Coast Mountains, the Xeni Gwet'in, a community of ranchers, guides and trappers, are accustomed to isolation. The rough road to their reserve wasn't built until 1973. Phone service arrived in 2000.

      Aware of the Climate Action Plan's deadlines, the Xeni Gwet'in began its conversion to solar energy last year, said George Colgate, manager of Xeni Gwet'in Enterprises. Natural Resources Canada gave the band $200,000, and, coupled with $50,000 of band money, it bought solar panels capable of generating 28 kilowatt hours of electricity.

      "When the sun shines, instead of the generators picking up the whole load, the [solar] panels do," Mr. Colgate said.

      The power is directed to the band offices, day care, health centre, maintenance yard, gas station and 20 of the 60 homes. A work in progress, the 75-kilowatt-hour diesel generator continues to be used to meet the shortfall.

      But last year, the band shaved a substantial $30,000 off its diesel bill, which dropped to $70,000, an amount spent to buy about 70,000 litres of diesel, Mr. Colgate said.

      Using solar panels installed on the roof of band buildings led to a 30-per-cent drop in diesel use, a reduction that's already helped the band reach the Action Plan's 2016 target of an 18-per-cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

      This year, the Xeni Gwet'in plans to upgrade and extend the electrical distribution system and add 50 more kilowatt hours of solar energy for 18 additional homes at a cost of about $1.35-million. One home solar system, including panels, mounts and connection accessories, costs at least $11,000.

      The band is applying for about $860,000 from the federal First Nation Infrastructure Fund, which has up to $10-million per project available until 2011.

      Currently, producing solar energy costs the Xeni Gwet'in about $1.25 per kilowatt hour, versus about 33 cents per kilowatt hour using diesel.

      "It's not a cheap solution, but we're putting out fewer greenhouse gases," Mr. Colgate said.

      During cloudy days when solar panels collect little energy, the band will use its existing propane backup system, paying about 70 cents per litre for propane, which produces half the greenhouse gases of diesel.


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