How the Heiltsuk First Nation's speedy switch to heat pumps is securing its energy future

Families used to pay $3,600/year for diesel to heat their homes and will now be able to save $1,500. Each heat pump eliminates 5 Tons of GHG emissions. So far they have eliminated 770 Tons in 154 houses.

A cold breeze smelling of salt and sea life sweeps through the town of Bella Bella, on Campbell Island, off the central coast of British Columbia.

Members of the Heiltsuk Nation have been living on this breathtaking land for at least 9,000 years. But in recent years, the community's reliance on fossil fuels to heat their homes has had devastating consequences. 

In 2016, an oil spill caused by a barge that ran aground dumped more than 110,000 litres of petroleum products into Gales Creek. Sixty per cent of the community's clam beds and fish stocks were destroyed, jeopardizing the community's primary livelihood.

In response, the Heiltsuk Nation — which has roughly 2,400 members — began working on a climate action plan to get off fossil fuels.

"Our whole plan is to realign with our ancestral laws, to realign who we are as Heiltsuk people with Earth and with our unique place in the world," Q̓átuw̓as Brown, the communications manager of the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Plan, told What On Earth.

The plan, which aims to achieve net-zero emissions within a decade and eventually reduce emissions by 24,000 tonnes a year, recently won Community of the Year from Clean Energy BC. The award recognizes the best and most ambitious sustainable energy strategy of any jurisdiction in British Columbia. 

For Brown, getting off fossil fuels is about re-establishing the community's sovereignty over its energy and land. One way the community is achieving this is through the installation of heat pumps

A heat pump uses electricity to pull heat out of the air. In the winter, it pulls warm air inside to heat your home; in the summer, it acts like an air conditioner, moving warm air out while circulating cool air inside. The process uses refrigerants for the conversion, much like your refrigerator.

When Brown spoke with What On Earth host Laura Lynch in January 2021, her community had installed 129 heat pumps. Now, in partnership with Ecotrust Canada, they have secured $6.6 million from several levels of government to install enough heat pumps for every member of the community who wants one. Ecotrust is also working with three other Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island to secure funding for heat pumps.

By the end of 2022, if all goes as planned, 95 per cent of community homes in Bella Bella will have a heat pump. 

Read the full article (and listen to the podcast, this story starts at 43:19) on CBC.

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