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Clean, affordable heating solutions for rural and Indigenous communities in BC

Phil Climie, Community Engagement Lead, Community Energy

Phil Climie is a summer research student working with Ecotrust Canada’s Community Energy initiative. (SHANNON LOUGH / ECOTRUST CANADA)

In May 2019, while in the midst of a planning degree at UBC, I joined Ecotrust Canada’s Community Energy program as a summer researcher. One component of the work that appeals to me is the program’s commitment to capacity building in partner communities. Supporting projects that not only deliver clean, affordable energy solutions, but also train and employ local workers is an approach that I strongly believe in.

After almost three months on the project, it has already become apparent that there are simply too many people in B.C. who are forced to decide between heating their homes and feeding their families. Firsthand accounts of elders enduring winters without functioning heating systems, high rates of utility disconnection notices, and people burning parts of their homes to stay warm have broadened my understanding of the need for equitable energy solutions in British Columbia.

Energy Poverty Research

In 2016, just over 60 per cent of household energy consumption in Canadian residences was spent on space heating (Natural Resources Canada, 2018). In the case of rural and Indigenous communities, residents can often lack access to affordable energy solutions. When compounded with poor quality and aging infrastructure, household heating costs can escalate to problematic levels.

Energy poverty, a term roughly understood as the experience of allocating a disproportionately high amount of income toward household energy uses, is a pervasive issue across rural and Indigenous communities in B.C. Preliminary research has found energy poverty rates to be three times higher on Indigenous reserves than the provincial average, while heating sources can cost up to five times more in rural communities (Ecotrust Canada, 2017).

For the summer of 2019, the Community Energy team is seeking to better understand the experiences of household heating for residents in Indigenous reserves and rural communities throughout B.C.

In June, the Community Energy team visited the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella to review the Heat Pump project. (RUDRI BHATT / ECOTRUST CANADA)

Community Work

As a part of the project, three partner communities have been established: Mount Waddington Regional District, Lower Similkameen Indian Band, and Heiltsuk First Nation. While each partnership will fill a gap in understanding the provincial energy poverty puzzle, the primary goal of each relationship is to further the specific mandates of each community.

Mount Waddington Regional District

The Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW) encompasses the northern end of Vancouver Island, the adjacent islands of the Broughton Archipelago, and a significant area of the Central Coast. Within the region are twelve First Nation communities, four municipalities, and ten other settler communities. The main objective of the partnership is to complete an analysis of energy use across the region. This includes examining data on electricity use (provided by BC Hydro) as well as wood and heating oil consumption levels.

Lower Similkameen Indian Band

Lower Similkameen Indian Band is a First Nation located in B.C.’s Southern Interior with about 300 on-reserve members. The community has identified residential heating as a significant issue and is hoping to clarify the experience by conducting surveys and analyzing residential utility bills (serviced by Fortis BC). The intent of the partnership is to combine an assessment of community needs with a review of potential solutions that could alleviate the burden felt by the band members.

Heiltsuk Nation

Bella Bella is a remote community on the Central Coast of B.C. with approximately 1,200 residents and 330 homes. In 2018, Heiltsuk Nation and Ecotrust Canada partnered on a project to replace diesel furnaces in 40 on-reserve homes with hydroelectrically powered air-source heat pumps. This summer, a review of the project involves analyzing BC Hydro utility bills and gauging satisfaction levels of residents who installed heat pumps. Heiltsuk Nation and Ecotrust Canada are currently pursuing funding opportunities to support the installation of additional heat pumps.


In addition to community work, the research will include cost estimates for different fuel sources, research into energy poverty programs elsewhere in the country, a review of current provincial energy policies, and mapping of B.C.’s utility networks. In summation, the project hopes to identify opportunities for improving the current residential heating situation for rural and Indigenous communities in British Columbia.

For any questions, inquiries or comments, please reach out to Phil Climie at

The Community Energy initiative is partnering with the Mount Waddington Regional District to investigate energy poverty and practical solutions. (RUDRI BHATT / ECOTRUST CANADA)


[Published July 25, 2019]