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Study: Affordable, reliable electricity unavailable to more than 200,000 Canadians

Canadians in almost 300 remote communities lack access toreasonably priced, reliable electricity, according to a study by the ConferenceBoard of Canada.

More than 200,000 people live in communities that are beyondthe reach of Canada's power grid and are forced to pay higher-than-averageprices for power. The communities, which are mostly inhabited by Aboriginalpeople, also receive the bulk of their power from diesel generators, which addto costs and carry adverse environmental effects. The report noted that many ofthe diesel generators in Canada's northern territories of Yukon, NorthwestTerritories and Nunavut have either reached the end of their life expectancy orwill do so within a decade.

The report said the diesel-generated power price, withoutsubsidies, for residents of Kugaaruk, Nunavut, is C$1.14/kWh, more than ninetimes the national average of 12 Canadian cents/kWh. Kugaaruk, which is in thehigh Arctic, had a population of 771 in 2011 and daily high temperature average14.5 degrees F, according to Canadian government data. People living inCanada's north receive direct subsidies on power as well as a federal tax breakbecause of their higher expenses.

While not offering specific power solutions for remotecommunities, the report by the Ottawa-based think tank recommends that governmentsstudy a variety of alternatives to diesel generation such as LNG or naturalgas, wind, geothermal and demand reduction. It acknowledges that the extremeenvironments of remote communities challenge the viability of all of thealternatives.

"Options to help reduce reliance on diesel generationinclude use of natural gas generators, wind turbines, hydro generators and manyother innovative technologies," a Sept. 27 statement that accompanied therelease of the report said. "On the other hand, options that decreaseelectricity usage can include the use of smart meters and improving energyefficiency."

The report notes that in many of the regions the viabilityof typical alternative energy sources is challenged because temperatures inwinter, when demand is highest, can plunge as low as minus-50 degrees C forextended periods and hours of sunlight can be extremely limited or non-existent.LNG, which is currently being used in some locations, is more difficult tostore and less energy-dense than diesel fuel. Wind turbines are affected byicing, and run-of-river hydro facilities are challenged by low winter outputdue to freezing and decreased water levels, the report said.

The DiavikDiamond Mines Inc. facility north of Yellowknife, NorthwestTerritories, successfully installed four wind turbines with a capacity of 9 MWthat work in conjunction with diesel generators, the report said. The companyhas reduced diesel consumption by about 5 million liters annually since thewind generators were installed.

Canada's provinces and territories agreed in 2015 tostudy ways to reducethe use of diesel generation in remote communities. That inter-provincial taskforce has yet to file a report.