Company gets cash from Ottawa to study harnessing energy from Mackenzie River in N.W.T.

Big River Services Centre LP, a Métis owned gas bar and restaurant, says it’s aiming to harness the power of the Dehcho (Mackenzie River) to reach a zero-carbon status by utilizing hydrokinetic technology.

Hydrokinetics produces renewable energy by harvesting the kinetic energy of water.

Linda Croft, the general manager of Big River, said that the company has received over $353,710 from the federal government to research the river’s capability to produce energy through instream turbines.

“It could be a huge financial win for businesses right of course we all know power is not cheap,” Croft said. “If we can one get rid of the diesel, get rid of the emissions and rely on what the Creator gave us for zero [emissions], that’s just phenomenal.”

She noted that even if the feasibility falls short, she’s pleased that the community is interested in cleaner fuels.

Gonezo Energy, a locally owned Indigenous company, has been hosting community engagement sessions to gather public feedback on river features and any observed alterations in the water.

Rogan Youngpine, an apprentice electrician with Gonezo, specifically mentions that they are interested in learning about the characteristics of the Dehcho region and the traditional knowledge regarding changes on the land.

“Because they have the most experience on the river, first-hand knowledge is the best,” Youngpine said. “We will provide most of the training for the youth because they are the leaders and the ones who will have to deal with the consequences if we don’t look at renewables.”

Community members in the Dene and Métis hamlet of Fort Providence say they’re enthusiastic about the opportunity to invest in renewable energy.

Bradley Thom, a councillor with Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę First Nation provides his feedback to the engagement survey.

“One of the questions is about ice thickness and if there’s places that don’t freeze up over the year,” Tom said. “I have noticed changes in the ice thickness; it’s not as thick as it used to be, probably because it’s not as cold for as long as before.”

Thom mentioned that he has observed the first snowfall happening weeks later than in his childhood, and the ice is more brittle when it forms, which makes it dangerous to ride a skidoo over certain parts of the river.

Lucus Elleze, a Dehcho Dene Elder and traditional knowledge holder, emphasized that safety is his primary concern for river crews navigating on low water levels.

“They will hire some students, but they should hire people who know the current and where the fast currents are,” Elleze said. “I’ve been up the river all my life and the current is strong by Dory’s point, between Big River and Providence.”

The Canadian Hydrological Turbine Testing Centre, a non-profit research institute affiliated with the University of Manitoba, will spearhead the project by conducting research in the N.W.T. to measure river flows in Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, and Jean Marie River.

Some of the money will be allocated for hiring four local interns to complete coursework, participate in field tech days and travel to Winnipeg to tour other turbine sites.

Richard Lafferty is a local Métis commercial diver whose family has a long history in shipping and barging on the Dehcho.

He hopes the project succeeds and mentioned that he has no concerns about environmental impacts from using the instream turbines.

“I’ve dove in the shafts of the actual turbines up at Bluefish (hydro facility), to clear the debris out, logs and stuff that got stuck in there from time to time, and I can’t see any harm to anybody, or any fish,” Lafferty said. “Look at the fish that jump the falls on the Kakisa River at Lady Evelyn Falls, they’re dynamic creatures.”

CHTTC has installed a turbine on the Winnipeg River that can operate year-round, even under the ice. Turbines have also been used in Alaska.

The research will also include an energy study on the impact of a micro-grid on Fort Province’s energy load, aiming to transition away from diesel and support the community’s energy grid.

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