Dealing with High Electricity Usage:
Once connected to the transmission lines with access to unlimited power, community members wondered why they experienced higher power bills despite no “Time of Use” pricing and lower rates than the rest of Ontario. The power bills are higher after connection to the provincial electrical grid because homes retrofitted with a larger electric panel provide access to an unlimited use of energy for such things as: electric heat, crawl space heaters, washers and dryers, hot water tanks, fridge, freezers, stoves, ovens and multiple electronic appliances, etc.
Reviewing power usage data between winter and summer and comparing power usage before and after connection to the grid, it is clear that the high energy use for home heating is the main reason for the higher power bills.
The amount of wood used for home heating has decreased significantly. Harvesting wood is not easy due to increased distances to travel to find suitable trees, and the limitations for travel due to the muskeg. Purchasing a cord of wood can be more expensive than using electric heat for the same time period.
In addition, many homes shift due to the freeze / thaw action of the wet muskeg, providing opportunity for air leakage. Older homes have insufficient amounts of insulation.
Addressing the Challenges of Higher Power Bills from High Energy Use
Since the fall of 2010, FNEI, Mushkegowuk Council, the three Power Corporations and the communities have sought funding and support to provide education on the wise use of energy, installed energy efficiency products in homes, developed housing policies, discussed renewable energy options and embarked on an extensive energy retrofit program of homes and lighting retrofits for businesses.
The following are some of the activities undertaken to address the concern of higher power bills:
FNEI Conservation Program (2010-2013)
- Hired local workers to install a variety of energy efficient products, such as low flow shower heads and aerators, CFL bulbs, block heater timers etc. in all homes
- Collaborated with the schools to provide three years of hands on classroom energy education, culminating in an annual community Energy Fair
- Purchased three depressurization fans (blower doors), one for each community, and trained multiple community members on how to use the tool to measure the leakiness of homes.
- Promoted the use of cold water for clothes washing by mailing out postcards to each home that shared the message of cold-water wash. The first 500 residents that brought the postcards back to their local Northern Store received a free jug of Sunlight Detergent, formulated for cold-water wash.
- Distributed boxes of 3M Window Film, one per family and demonstrated how to use it at an event at the Northern Store. (This film is applied on the inside of windows in the winter to help stop condensation and draft issues. The plastic film is attached to the interior frame with double sided tape and then heated with a hair dryer so it becomes virtually invisible.)
- Gathered energy saving tips from community members in exchange for a raffle ticket. Tips used in calendars, the cold-water wash campaign and on utility bill inserts and posters.
FAFN Community Housing Conference (2012)
Planned and hosted by the Fort Albany Housing department, this conference explored the benefits of developing and implementing housing policy and a housing authority. There were hands-on activities demonstrating how community members could reduce their high energy use to decrease their energy bills, such as learning how to apply caulking, how to install door weatherstripping and water heater pipe insulation, etc.
Mushkegowuk Energy Summit (2013) and the FNEI Energy Symposium (2015)
These two events were held in Timmins and they explored options and opportunities for energy efficiency programs, home construction and renewable energy. Guest speakers from other communities and agencies shared their experiences.
Mushkegowuk Regional Housing Strategy (ongoing)
AFN Housing Plan (ongoing)
Community Energy Plan (ongoing)
FNEI, on behalf of the three communities coordinated the provincial funding application for conducting a joint Community Energy Plan (CEP). The CEP report will be finalized in early 2018 and presented to Chiefs and Councils and Community Members.
The CEP process included multiple Chief and Council meetings in the three communities and direct consultation with community members and school children.
The key outcomes included:
- Develop and implement New Home and Existing Home Policies for improved construction and maintenance that will reduce energy bills and more important the health and comfort for the occupants.
- Develop and implement Housing Authorities in each community to address the implementation of the new Housing Policies.
- Adopt a “Housing as a Business” approach to deal with the current housing crisis of insufficient and inefficient housing stock.
- Build local capacity for energy retrofits and installation and maintenance of heat recovery ventilation (HRVs) and other required local skills
- Find alternative ways to build on muskeg to avoid the damaging freeze thaw action of the foundations in the wet soil (LINK TO a PPT on this issue)
- Explore options for dealing with back up power concerns, for example the provision of pellet stoves, and renewable energy generation and storage
- Explore renewable energy generation options such as a Run of the River project, solar and wind.
The CEP Report provides a discussion on the above topics and others, and outlines options for moving forward
A video was produced in 2017 to share the good work that is being done in the communities to move toward a more sustainable future: