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North Island coalition is working together to end regional power outages

Regional effort will explore alternative power supply opportunities to boost reliability
The Cape Scott Wind Farm produces clean energy for Vancouver Island communities and industries, yet when the North Island has power outages, local communities cannot access this local supply of clean electricity. (Photo supplied by ICET)

Communities on Northern Vancouver Island are working together to mitigate the impact of power outages and stabilize backup sources of supply, with funding support from Island Coastal Economic Trust’s Investment Readiness Program.

The North Island Sustainable Power Coalition is made up of the communities of Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice, Alert Bay, the Regional District of Mount Waddington, and the ‘Namgis, Quatsino, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw and Kwakiutl First Nations. The coalition has been meeting since mid-2021 after experiencing 29 power outages in a single year.

“We’re seeing more and more weather-related power outages, and climate change will only exacerbate supply reliability,” explains Coalition member and Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas via news release. “An intermittent and unreliable power supply fundamentally affects the security and safety of our economy and people.”

This project aims to identify affordable, reliable sources of power to backup the electrical grid. It will review existing production and storage capacity against load distribution and consumption and explore opportunities to modify or expand existing generating assets and develop new generation capabilities.

“It is unfortunate that communities the size of Port Hardy have had to spend over one million dollars installing backup generators to ensure that potable water and sanitary sewer services are maintained,” explains Dugas.

The coalition identified concerns including residents with limited incomes where power outages can be life threatening. People who rely on CPAP machines, dialysis, or oxygen need to have backup power to keep their health up or they may be at risk of adverse health effects. In terms of economic investment, the coalition cites the lack of sustainable power across Northern Vancouver Island as affecting current businesses, stating, “if we want to see advancement in economic opportunities, we need to provide sustainable power to support these opportunities.”

North Island power outages can last for hours or days and occur for a variety of reasons including weather-related events, and aging BC Hydro transmission and distribution equipment. There are power generating assets in the region that provide power to the BC Hydro grid however, when the grid is down, those assets are not able to generate and supply power.

“It’s inspiring to see this partnership of First Nations and local governments working to create a path for people across the North Island to have access to the wind and run-of-river energy being created locally in their region. This initiative shows us yet again how local leadership, regional partnerships, and the Trust are combining our efforts to build a more sustainable and resilient coastal economy,” stated Aaron Stone, Chair, Island Coastal Economic Trust.

The Analysis of Opportunities for Electrical Backup on the North Island is funded through the Investment Readiness Program. The Trust will contribute $12,500 to the total project cost of $25,000. The project is expected to get underway shortly, with a December 2022 completion date.

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