Focus on Leadership | ATCO helps communities transition from diesel

April 26, 2022
Leadership Team Calgary Energy & Environment
2 ATCO 1920 x 1080

This solar array in Old Crow, Yukon, generates electricity for the community.

Supplied by ATCO

Joel Schlesinger ©Postmedia Network Inc.

Fort Chipewyan and Old Crow are small communities making big steps toward becoming net zero.

And Calgary-based ATCO is playing a big part in the transition.

Both remote northern communities — Fort Chipewyan is in Alberta and Old Crow the Yukon — are trailblazers in establishing renewable energy projects to reduce their reliance on diesel for the generation of electricity. The shift to renewable energy is the focus of ATCO’s Off Diesel program.

“Our goal is to reduce reliance on diesel to produce electricity in these isolated communities,” says Jay Massie, vice-president of northern development and Indigenous relations at ATCO. “There are over 200 isolated communities like this in Canada where diesel is their primary source of electricity.”

ATCO is one of Canada’s leading utilities, and also at the forefront of building up the nation’s renewable energy sources, including wind and solar.

The projects in Fort Chipewyan and Old Crow involve solar arrays that provide electricity from spring through fall, making up about 25 per cent of the communities’ annual electricity needs.

“We’re talking about a significant impact on energy consumption,” says Massie. “The Fort Chipewyan project will reduce their diesel consumption by 800,000 litres per year, and Old Crow, a smaller community, will see an offset of about 190,000 litres per year.”

Another benefit of the shift to solar is a reduction in noise pollution created by the diesel plants.

While the Off Diesel initiative is part of a larger goal of ATCO, which is moving toward becoming a net-zero provider of energy, it has many other benefits, particularly for northern Indigenous communities.

“These projects offer the opportunity for economic development and jobs in these communities,” he says.

Both solar projects were funded and developed by local Indigenous governments, with ATCO providing technical expertise by helping integrate the solar fields into the communities’ power grids.

The communities can even generate wealth from the projects by selling electricity to ATCO.

“Instead of us making all the power with diesel, we buy it from their photovoltaic field,” he adds. “These are their projects; they own them, operate them and maintain them.”

Although solar-generated electricity is more viable during the warmer months, with sunlight greatly reduced during the winter in the North, Massie says these communities can plan to add renewable energy generation from other sources such as wind and geothermal to become even less dependent on diesel in the future.

Given the initial successes, ATCO has plans to expand the initiative in other remote communities.

“That’s really the goal of the Off Diesel program,” Massie says. “It’s all about scaling up sustainability one community at a time.”

 This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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