Small communities look for pathways to self-sufficiency


Fuels like gasoline, diesel, and natural gas are essential for survival in Northern Canada – whether for energy generation, heating, or transportation. They’re also a source of incredible opportunity. These vital fuels can provide the means for local economic growth in remote areas, all while meeting energy demand. 

One example is Burwash Landing, located in western Yukon and home to about one hundred residents with the majority belonging to the Kluane First Nation. Like most small communities, it’s off the main electricity grid, so for many years, diesel has been an essential import. That’s unlikely to change entirely anytime soon – at least not until renewables are viable and reliable replacements that can fully fill demand.

Meanwhile, hybrid power generation may be one approach. Burwash Landing’s decision to supplement diesel with wind by investing in three wind turbines has been getting attention, especially because it’s now a Yukon first for an entirely diesel-reliant community. Speaking to the Yukon News, Chief Mathieya Alatini clearly understands its limitations, as well as its potential: “it’s not going to totally replace diesel-generated electricity, but it’s going to be an option that will decrease operating costs and provide some clean energy,” she explained. Protecting the environment remains a priority, and the community’s goal of selling what is generated to ATCO Electric may both turn a profit and reduce carbon emissions.

When a combined grocery store and gas station recently opened up in the area, it was met with enthusiasm. Until recently, residents would have had to take a six-hour round-trip for groceries. There’s promise that by providing two necessities for those in Burwash Landing and those passing by, the new business can drive local economic activity. Six full-time jobs have already been created. Chief Alatini spoke with CBC about the new business – and new community hub. 

This crucial conversation around fuels continues in other forms. Recently, the Kluane First Nation posted a guide to liquefied natural gas onto their website.

A plan has been in the works for a number of years to build an LNG facility in Burwash Landing that would power platinum mining operations, feed electricity back into the grid, and produce LNG for use across the territory. The general manager of the Kluane Community Development Corporation, Colin Asselstine, noted that LNG “could be a good substitute for diesel in the community, as long as it’s done properly.”

The Ferus and Wellgreen Platinum Power Mine, aimed to start construction in 2018, might not be alone in opting to use LNG for operations. Other mining companies have been examining the potential, though the Burwash Landing proposal could be unique in its plan to generate electricity for external use. Chief Alatini has expressed her desire for long-term benefits from working with industry. She spoke in 2014 of wanting to maximize training and employment opportunity for Kluane citizens – in skilled positions especially.

This eagerness to explore options for self-sufficiency will doubtlessly continue to propel Yukon communities forward. And while a need for dependable energy underlies the quest for economic growth, making use of it can also be the means for success, as Burwash Landing exemplifies. 

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