British Columbia

Electric heat pumps bring cleaner, cheaper power to Heiltsuk Nation

Heat pumps installed in homes near Bella Bella, B.C., are saving members of the Heiltsuk Nation thousands of dollars on their heating bills each year, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and improving their health, a band councillor says.

Hydro-powered pumps save average of $1,650 per household per year, Ecotrust Canada says

Members of the Heiltsuk Nation were trained to install the heat pumps, creating jobs within the community. (Ecotrust Canada)

Electrically powered heat pumps installed in homes near Bella Bella, B.C., are saving members of the Heiltsuk First Nation thousands of dollars on their heating bills each year, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, and improving their health, according to a band councillor. 

Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit organization that focuses on creating sustainable energy and economy, worked with the Heiltsuk to secure funding for 40 heat pumps in 2017 and 2018. The Heiltsuk has secured funding for an additional 20 heat pumps that they are currently planning to install. 

The pumps work like reverse air conditioners, heating homes rather than cooling them. They're replacing oil and diesel furnaces and electric furnaces and radiators primarily in homes where large families or groups live.

The cost to install the pumps ranges from $6,000 to $14,000, depending on the home. The costs in other parts of the province may vary.

Graham Anderson, Community Energy Initiative Director with Ecotrust Canada, said the pumps have saved an average of $1,650 per household, per year. 

"The practice really demonstrated both the benefit and the opportunity for efficiency retrofits in households in rural and remote communities in B.C.," he said. 

"With the COVID-19 crisis and the increasing challenges that people have been facing over the past few months with employment, the need is only greater."

Health benefits

The heat pumps are being powered by the Ocean Falls hydroelectric dam. 

"It's always been within our values to take care of the land and the waters," band councillor Jaimie Teagle told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"But with technology becoming more affordable and more widely spread and everything's changing so quickly, we're able to capitalize on these green energy ways of living and then to incorporate it into what we already currently live within our lifestyle."

In addition to cost savings and reducing the community's reliance on fossil fuels, Teagle said there are great health benefits to using the heat pumps.

She said there's been a rise in asthma within the Heiltsuk, which could be a result of mould from poor heating conditions or from having wood smoke circulating throughout their homes. 

"In reality, there are so many issues with housing in general, and heating the home is the main thing right now because without the proper heating, it creates mould, it creates high bills and whatnot," Teagle said. 

"Really, it's thinking of our future generation making sure that there's a safe and secure home for them in the next 100 years."

The Heiltsuk Nation trained members to be able to install and maintain the pumps themselves, which has provided some employment in the community.

Community feedback

According to a survey from Ecotrust Canada, 62.5 per cent of respondents said they believe the pumps work better than their old heating system.

However, written respondents cited concerns that the heating system didn't work during a power outage because it's electric, and another said it doesn't heat a house the same way a wood furnace does. 

"It may need a couple of tweaks on how to work the heat pump," Teagle said. "But other than that, overall, it's really positive."

With files from Matt Allen and Daybreak North