Floating on the surface and spinning less than 10 revolutions per minute, the tidal-powered paddlewheel being tested by Haida Gwaii’s own Yourbrook Energy Systems seeks to avoid many of the environmental and maintenance issues with faster, seafloor-mounted tidal projects. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Floating on the surface and spinning less than 10 revolutions per minute, the tidal-powered paddlewheel being tested by Haida Gwaii’s own Yourbrook Energy Systems seeks to avoid many of the environmental and maintenance issues with faster, seafloor-mounted tidal projects. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Investigating renewable energy on Haida Gwaii

Part One of a two-part feature on the Haida Gwaii Renewable Energy Symposium

As a child in Old Massett, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas knew a time before grid power.

At night, for a few hours, he remembers Uncle Adam Bell firing a small generator to keep the lights on.

“That was electricity in Old Massett.”

Today nearly all Haida Gwaii buildings are grid-connected. But about two thirds of the electricity still comes from burning diesel.

It takes about 10 million litres a year just to run the Masset diesel generating station, the only power source for the grid north of Tlell.

Between electricity, heat, and getting around, people on Haida Gwaii burn millions of litres more.

“We are a dirty island,” quipped Dana Moraes, speaking at a two-day Renewable Energy Symposium hosted late last month by the Swiilawiid Sustainability Society.

The local non-profit started two years ago with the goal of getting Haida Gwaii off diesel power.

Haida Nation President Peter Lantin, kil tlaats’gaa, agreed it’s a top priority — one that unites everyone who lives here.

“It’s a foreign substance, and Haida Gwaii has the energy that we need,” Lantin said, noting that the islands have many options for renewable technology, including solar, tidal, wind, biomass, or run-of-river hydro.

There are also choices for ownership.

“This is also one of the most important economic projects in modern times,” Lantin said.

“We have the Gwaii Trust, we have the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust… should we invest in ourselves?”

“I think we all know the answer to that question — an absolutely resounding yes.”

Going with the flow

When BC Hydro last put a call-out for clean power projects on Haida Gwaii in 2012, it highlighted the islands’ big opportunity and greatest challenge.

Given how costly it is to produce Haida Gwaii’s diesel power — local power bills are heavily subsidized by BC Hydro — there is a bigger payoff here for trying leading-edge renewable technology.

As it happens, from now until 2024, Natural Resources Canada has budgeted $220 million for pilot projects that reduce diesel fuel reliance in remote communities.

But on the other hand, because a subsea power link between Haida Gwaii and the mainland would likely cost $300 to $500 million, there is no easy backup — the islands need a firm and steady power source.

That is why BC Hydro has generally favoured a shift to small hydro projects that keep diesel as a back-up.

Since 1990, that is how things already work on Haida Gwaii’s south grid, which powers Sandspit to Tlell.

About 80 per cent of the power comes from a small hydro plant at Moresby Lake, which is currently run by a Boston-based company, Atlantic Power. The diesel generating station along the highway to Sandspit only fires up whenever water levels are low.

Trent Moraes, deputy chief councillor of the Skidegate Band Council, says the village has recently partnered with Old Massett, Atlantic Power, and NRStore, an energy storage developer, to look at upgrading the existing hydro generation at Moresby Lake.

“We don’t want to recreate the wheel,” Moraes said.

Skidegate has already had a lot of success in renewable energy, ranging from solar hot water projects to installing heat pumps in almost every home, not to mention the new solar arrays that now power the George Brown Rec Centre and much of the Kay Centre, which also has a Tesla charger for electric cars.

At any time, Skidegate can see exactly how much power the whole village is using, and local staff are training to offer energy audits across Haida Gwaii. There is also a study underway to look at installing rooftop solar panels on people’s homes.

Moraes said many of those initiatives have come from partnering with BC Hydro. But the key is that Skidegate has made energy issues a priority since 2005.

“I don’t think it’s apparent to people that Skidegate is only successful on energy for that reason — we’ve been working on this a long time now.”

A map shows the proposed layout of the Van Inlet Hydro Corporation’s paired hydro projects on Clapp Basin Head and ZZ Creeks. (Van Inlet Hydro Corporation)

George Pattison also knows a thing or two about hard work, and energy.

Pattison moved to Haida Gwaii as a doctor in 1976, but has since done everything from forestry to carpentry to fishing, not to mention the 20 years he grew Island Joe’s tomatoes in eco-powered greenhouses on the Pattison family farm in Bearskin Bay.

Having set up a small run-of-river project for the farm, in 2002 Pattison turned his eye to the bigger picture and started researching a promising watershed near Van Inlet, close to Rennell Sound.

Working with a hydrologist and local board of directors, in 2007 Pattison founded the Van Inlet Hydro Corporation and for five years the group took streamflow data at ZZ Creek, even when it meant paddling iced-over lakes in winter.

Combined with another small hydro project at the neighbouring Clapp Basin Head Creek, the Van Inlet Hydro proposal could nearly replace diesel power on Graham Island. No fish would be affected, and the power line stretching to Port Clements would mainly use existing forestry roads.

“Haida Gwaii is an ideal place to capture this renewable energy — there is an abundance of rain, and the presence of mountains,” said Kayla McDermitt, speaking on Pattison’s behalf.

“Now or never, it’s time to make more sustainable decisions.”

Tidal trial

Van Inlet isn’t the only homegrown power project on Haida Gwaii.

Since 2010, Yourbrook Energy Systems has been working toward a slow-turning, tidal-powered water pump that could actually provide the same kind of firm power as a conventional hydro project.

“We looked at all the problems everyone else was having promising tidal energy,” said Clyde Greenough, who formed Yourbrook together with Laird Bateham, the inventor of the tidal system, as well as Dan Abbott and Alden Bateham.

Sitting on the water surface and spinning at less than 10 revolutions a minute, the Yourbrook tidal wheel avoids impacts to fish, and it’s easier to maintain than the fast, seafloor-mounted turbines trialed in places such as the Bay of Fundy.

To get firm power, the paddlewheel drives a piston that in turn pumps fresh water through a closed loop of pipes, generating enough pressure to run a hydro turbine.

Some of the water would also be pumped to an uphill reservoir.

“When the tide slacks, it’s released to keep the turbine running around the clock,” said Greenough, comparing the reservoir to a giant battery.

During the renewable energy symposium in Old Massett, islanders got a chance to see the 40-kilowatt Yourbrook prototype by the Masset dock. The design already has a European patent approved and North American ones underway, and the 1:10 scale prototype was tested last year in Juskatla Narrows.

However, Haida hereditary chiefs raised concerns about using the Juskatla Narrows site for a full trial.

But after consulting with the chiefs and the Council of the Haida Nation, Yourbrook is now exploring an alternative site on the eastern side of Masset Inlet, north of Kumdis Island.

“We have a high regard for Clyde and his crew, and the way they’ve conducted their business,” said Frank Collison, Sithlda, one of the Haida hereditary leaders.

“They’ve done all the right things — they’ve come to the Haida Nation, they’ve come to the chiefs council, made sure things are okay and didn’t try to steamroll it through or anything.

“I can say that we’re 100 per cent behind their technology and want to wish them well in their endeavours.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Yourbrook announced that the National Research Council of Canada will run a performance study and computational fluid dynamics analysis of its design. The independent which should help refine its design.

After more testing of the existing prototype, the next step is to build a four-wheel, two-megawatt model that actually generates electricity for the grid. In the long-term, they hope to develop the technology for other B.C. coastal communities that use diesel power, as well as for powering remote industrial sites, fishing lodges, and even pumping water through inland fish farms.

“Our big dream is to build these things locally and expand internationally,” said Greenough.

“We’re dedicated to resolving the problem of local reliance on diesel, just like everybody else in this room is trying to do. We’re all on the same page.”

RELATED: Investigating tidal turbines near Kitkatla



newsroom@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

electricity

Just Posted

Richard Green and Alex Campbell stand in solemn reflection of the survivors and victims of the residential school system on May 30. On June 21, Prince Rupert will honour National Indigenous Peoples Day and recognize the contributions made by First Nations, Inuit and Métis of Canada.
Prince Rupert Reflecting on National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 is to celebrate the contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis to Canada’s culture

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Dr. Rob Olson stands in front of a linear accelerator at the BC Cancer Centre in Prince George. 
The machine is used to deliver SABR treatment to clinical trial patients. (Photo: supplied)
Pilot project brings access to care closer to home for Prince Rupert cancer patients

Northwest B.C. will be the first region to partner in the international clinical trial project

Joseph Albert Brooks, 94-years-young pf Prince Rupert offers traditional prayers and smudging to the sick. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Heart of our City: Joseph Albert Brooks keeps smudging and praying for others

94-year-old Tsimshian elder just wants some help washing his floors

Land along Prince Rupert’s waterfront, PID 012-247-391, where residents say excessive industrial train noise is stemming from, has been found to be owned by the City of Prince Rupert and is not federal land like first presented, Prince Rupert Environmental Society stated on June 17. (Image: supplied by Land Title and Survey, Govt. of BC.)
Error found on land titles map may assist city with noise control enforcement of industry

Prince Rupert residents had been told there was no municipal jurisdiction to enforce noise bylaws

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

Most Read