South­ern Labrador com­mu­ni­ties strug­gle with diesel gen­er­a­tors


SOUTH­ERN LABRADOR, NL – Many com­mu­ni­ties along south­ern Labrador have been run­ning on diesel gen­er­a­tors for gen­er­a­tions, and some are feel­ing ex­cluded from fu­ture changes.

There have been pre­vi­ous ef­forts – like 2016’s $1.35-bil­lion Wataynikaneyap Power project – to bring more of these off-the-grid com­mu­ni­ties into the North Amer­i­can power grid. But the south­ern Labrador towns of Char­lot­te­town, Port Hope Simp­son, Mary’s Har­bour and St. Lewis con­tinue to run on diesel gen­er­a­tors.

Com­ing off that sys­tem in the fu­ture seems like a bleak chance for many.

Glynes Pen­ney of Port Hope Simp­son says this has brought many bar­ri­ers and lim­i­ta­tions to the com­mu­nity, in both home heat­ing and in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to grow in your com­mu­nity on a diesel gen­er­a­tor,” said Pen­ney. “We have two sawmills but can only op­er­ate one with the gen­er­a­tor. One win­ter, the gen­er­a­tor was down for so many days. We were with­out heat be­cause we couldn’t run our fur­naces.”

Pen­ney says the town would like to see some­thing done about the is­sues the gen­er­a­tor has caused. She is also up­set with all the en­ergy be­ing pro­duced in the Muskrat Falls project, know­ing Port Hope Simp­son will be reap­ing none of it.

“To know all this power is com­ing out of Labrador and will be just pass­ing by us – it’s very dis­ap­point­ing,” she said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns

Liv­ing off the grid also comes with a list of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. Burn­ing co­pi­ous amounts of diesel pro­duces green­house gas emis­sions, and the trans­porta­tion of fuel – par­tic­u­larly in win­ter months – cre­ates a high risk of fuel spills.

The elec­tric­ity in Mary’s Har­bour is also run on a diesel gen­er­a­tor. But work has re­cently been un­der­way to bring a long­dor­mant mini-hy­dro­elec­tic plant back in op­er­a­tion. The plan was pro­posed by New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro to try to re­duce the amount of diesel con­sump­tion in the com­mu­nity of Mary’s Har­bour.

With past break­downs in their cur­rent gen­er­a­tor, town clerk Glenys Rum­bolt says the Mary’s Har­bour Hy­dro project could be highly ben­e­fi­cial.

“It was a pilot project many years ago in the mid-eight­ies, and thank­fully it’s com­ing back on stream now,” Rum­bolt said.

Al­though, some have not found the diesel gen­er­a­tors to be as bur­den­some. St. Lewis town man­ager Lor­raine Poole says the diesel gen­er­a­tor has worked out well for her com­mu­nity.

“I must say, we’ve im­proved a lot with the diesel sys­tem,” said Poole. “We don’t have many power out­ages, they keep ev­ery­thing go­ing pretty well.”

Poole says the diesel gen­er­a­tor has given St. Lewis more in­de­pen­dence with cheaper light bills and pro­tec­tion from grid out­ages. She says she’s heard of more is­sues with out­ages around Labrador Straits com­mu­ni­ties that are run on an elec­tric grid.

“There’s a lot of out­ages up in the Straits where I’m from,” said Poole. “Mom and dad live in L’anse au Loup, and they have a lot more out­ages than we do.”

Be­sides brief out­ages as the engine is changed over or dur­ing bad ice storms, St. Lewis ap­pears to be reap­ing some pos­i­tives from be­ing off-the­grid. But Poole ac­knowl­edges that there is al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture risks.

“Granted, if more busi­nesses come to town we may have is­sues,” she said. “But right now, we’re pretty lucky.”

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