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Environmental Remediation And Alternative Energy Systems (ERAAES)

Installing solar panels in the snow – October 2017

Nine hours north from Lynn Lake on a winter road, Northlands Dënesųłiné First Nation is one of the most beautiful communities in Manitoba.

The community is set on the shore of Lac Brochet, Manitoba, 425 km west of Churchill, near the Saskatchewan border.

This project—the ERAAES project—has been in the works for about 3 years. But the intention to reduce—and eventually eliminate—the dependence on diesel in Manitoba’s northern, isolated communities has been in the works for decades. This project takes the first, big step in putting that intention into action for Northlands.

The ERAAES project will replace approximately 1/3 of the diesel used for heat in Northlands. It will also begin the clean-up of diesel contamination that has resulted from using diesel for heat.

Northlands from the air

Flying in

It is an integrated project that includes:

  1. remediation and clean-up of two diesel spill sites in the community
  2. a biomass district heating system
  3. a lake-based geothermal district heating and cooling system
  4. a solar PV park
  5. integration of these system
  6. a log-yard and logging operation to harvest local fire-kill wood for fuel for the biomass system

1. Remediation & Clean-Up

In-situ remediation down by the lake

The two diesel contamination sites in most urgent need of clean-up in the community are near the Petit Casmir Memorial School and a cluster of buildings by the lake (the “Lakeside Cluster”) that includes the Head Start Building. Clean-up of these two site (using in-situ and ex-situ injection) are included in this project.

Using injection techniques (rather than the more traditional dig-and-dump approach) reduces the diesel required to do the cleanup, provides training to local community members on site clean-up, and provides the community with the equipment needed for further clean-ups.

2. A Biomass District Heating System

A dual-boiler 1.4 mW biomass system is being installed, integrated with a new underground district energy loop. The 50/50 water/glycol mixture in the loop will provide the primary heat to the school (with diesel remaining as back-up). It will also provide back-up heat to the buildings that are going to be heated by the geothermal system (what we’re calling the “Lakeside Cluster”), as well as heating the domestic hot water for the school and for the buildings in the Lakeside Cluster.

3. A Lake-Based District Geothermal System

Assembling geothermal coils

Eleven buildings by the lake (the Lakeside Cluster) will be heated (and, when needed, cooled) using a new geothermal loop drawing energy from the lake.

4. A Solar PV Park

Clearing land for the solar PV park

A new 280 kW Solar PV Park is being installed. It will be tied into the local grid operated by Manitoba Hydro.

The Solar PV Park will generate enough electricity in an average year to offset the electricity required by the biomass system’s pumps, the geothermal system’s pumps, and the pumps in the community’s new aerated WasteWater Treatment system.

At 280 kW, this solar array will be the largest in Manitoba.

5. Integration

There are three different aspects of integration in this project:

  • The biomass and geothermal systems will be integrated. If any part of the geothermal system stops working or is taken off line for maintenance, the biomass heating system will automatically kick in to provide the heat to the geothermal-heated buildings. This “belt-and-suspenders” approach is essential to guarantee heat and to enable removal of diesel heating systems in the Lakeside Cluster.
  • The solar PV park will be integrated with the existing local grid.
  • The monitoring systems for three energy systems (biomass, geothermal, and solar PV) will be integrated into the satellite wifi system in the community, so that both the local operators and the remote support team can monitor operations in real time, can be alerted to any problems, and can work together to diagnose and fix those problems.

Filling solar gabion bases with rocks

6. A Log-Yard and Logging Operation

The biomass system needs approximately 700 tonnes of fuel a year. This project includes the equipment and training needed for local people to harvest that fuel from the fire-kill in the Lac Brochet area, left over after forest fires.

The Project So Far

Aki Energy is the Consultant (basically, the designer) of the project, working for the First Nation, with funding from INAC. Boke Consulting was brought in by Aki as Project Lead, which means we assemble the team and drive the project through to completion.

Solar PV racks ready for panels

In November 2016, we went public with an Invitation to Tender on Merx, the public website where governments and other big organizations invite companies to submit bids.

The winning bidder was NDL Construction. NDL did an extraordinary job of getting materials up on the winter road before it closed in March 2017.

Work started as soon as the ground thawed in May 2017.

From June to October 2017, the project team has been working on decontamination in the Lakeside Cluster, putting the geothermal loops in the lake, and setting up the solar PV field.

Racking in the solar PV farm ready for panels – September 2017

We plan to have the bulk of the remediation and construction completed over this year and next—in 2017 and 2018. Remediation and biomass harvesting will continue in 2019 and 2020, with operations continuing on after.

Once this integrated system is up and running, Northlands Dënesųłiné will be one of the leading alternative-energy communities in Canada.


All the panels are up now – November 2017

  1. Local Jobs
    • The project has been designed so that much of the remediation and construction work can be done by local employees, working with a multidisciplinary team of experts.
    • The project will also create permanent local jobs to harvest and process the biomass, and to operate and maintain the three energy systems.
  2. Local Control

    Harvesting burnt wood – November 2017

    • These energy systems will be owned and operated by the community.
  3. Expandability
    • All three energy systems are designed so that they can be added onto in future years.
  4. Duplicability
    • This project has been designed so that it can be duplicated—with modifications for local energy sources—in other northern communities.
  5. Contamination & Risk Reduction
    • Diesel fuel contaminates the soil when it leaks or spills. Diesel fumes from the soil are a health hazard. The diesel in the soil can get into the water table and migrate to the lake water, which is the community’s sole source of drinking water.
    • The liquids that circulate in the biomass and geothermal district loops are much less harmful than diesel, and break down quickly and naturally if spilled. The systems have monitors built in so that any leaks will be quickly detected and stopped.
    • Biomass fuel is nothing except wood chips. If they spill, they can either be gathered up and used, or mixed into the soil to make it more fertile.
  6. GHG Reduction
    • This project will reduce Northlands GHG emissions by roughly 1/6.
    • Future expansion options will reduce those emissions further.