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Off the grid: Southern Labrador communities struggle with diesel generators

Glynes Penney of Port Hope Simpson is disappointed that communities like hers will not receive any benefit from energy being produced in Labrador through the Muskrat Falls project. File photo
Glynes Penney of Port Hope Simpson is disappointed that communities like hers will not receive any benefit from energy being produced in Labrador through the Muskrat Falls project. File photo

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 long-dormant 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-the-grid. 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.”

kyle.greenham@northernpen.ca

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