British Columbia

Haida Gwaii village aims to eliminate diesel by turning to renewable energy

The Village of Queen Charlotte recently issued a request for proposals to study options that will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by using solar, wind or hydro instead.

Village of Queen Charlotte mayor says, 'It's just the right thing to do'

The Village of Queen Charlotte is located near the centre of the Haida Gwaii archipelago just off B.C.'s north coast. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

A small village on British Columbia's picturesque Haida Gwaii wants to replace the diesel fuel it relies on with renewable energy.

The Village of Queen Charlotte, which has about 850 residents, recently issued a request for proposals for engineering companies to study options that will offset greenhouse gas emissions by using solar, wind or hydro instead.

"It's just the right thing to do. You know, global warming is occurring," said Queen Charlotte Mayor Kris Olsen, whose Haida name is Dluuguu.

BC Hydro ships fuel for the island across the Hecate Strait to two diesel generation stations. Some officials on Haida Gwaii say the power supply is the island's "dirty little secret."

Some solar already in place

In 2012, BC Hydro issued a call for renewable energy projects for all of Haida Gwaii, but opted not to move forward after receiving 26 submissions.

But Olsen said he thinks this call for proposals will have a better chance at success because it's just for the Village of Queen Charlotte, and not the entire island chain. 

"We live in this beautiful place. We're very aware that we have a huge impact on how we get our energy," he said. "We're looking at every opportunity for us to reduce that."

The majority of Haida Gwaii's power currently comes from diesel shipped by BC Hydro across the Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert, B.C. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

The village's main municipal building already is supplemented by solar panels on its rooftop, Olsen says, and other municipalities on the island also have renewable energy sources like heat pumps. 

In a written statement, BC Hydro said it's "open to opportunities to cost-effectively reduce diesel generation for electricity needs on Haida Gwaii and to review potential future projects."

'Tremendous opportunity'

Martin Ordonez, a renewable energy expert at the University of British Columbia, says technology for solar energy in particular has come a long way in the past few years and costs have dropped. 

"From a technological point of view I have no doubt that it can be done," Ordonez said. "Any town or location that has a diesel generator, there's a tremendous opportunity to replace that with renewables."

Ordonez points out that the cost of shipping diesel by boat makes renewable energy projects financially attractive in the long-term. 

The biggest challenge for a renewable energy project like this, Ordonez says, is the start-up costs. 

But Olsen says he and the other city councillors are committed to pushing the project forward.

There's already about $100,000 set aside for the initial research, he says, and the municipality hopes to access funding through Clean B.C. and the federal gas tax once a plan is in place. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from Justin McElroy

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