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Heat pumps making a positive change for Heiltsuk residents on B.C. coast

Residents have seen heating costs decrease substantially
Premier David Eby, here seen in early November 2023, said his government is close to announcing “better cooperation” with the federal government on financial support for heat pumps as well as heating costs generally. (Screencap)

A project to install 305 heat pumps in homes for the Heiltsuk Nation on B.C.’s Central Coast has been a success, said the project’s coordinator Pam Wilson.

“Heat pumps are three times more efficient, which means we are actually using less power than we would have been using prior,” Wilson told Coast Mountain News.

They are also three times more cost effective.

Wilson has one and spent about $3,500 a year heating her home with fuel.

Since the heat pump has been installed in her home, she is paying $650 more on hydro for the year to heat her home.

With the heat pump she also now has access to air conditioning, which she never had before.

Wilson doesn’t have a wood-stove but said some residents have kept theirs for back-up heat.

“The challenge in our community is when a lot of our homes were built, furnaces were installed at the time were wood and oil combination. The cost to convert and do all of those things was just about the same amount as replacing.”

For the electric heat pumps in Bella Bella, the nation decided to go with the model that had a generator whip at the end.

When the power goes out, residents go unplug the heat pump from the house outside and plug it into a generator.

“It’s very simple,” she said.

William Housty, another community member, said he has been very happy with the heat pump they got in 2022.

“Previously, we had an electric furnace and with switching to the heat pump we have cut our energy use by about 50 to 60 per cent which has made it a lot more affordable as well,” Housty said.

He said he thinks the key to lowering energy use and cost is knowing how to use the heat pump.

“In the very beginning, my parents were turning the heat pump on when it got cold and turning it off when it got warm. By doing that, the machine was starting and stopping starting and stopping and that used a lot more energy. Whereas if you just find a good setting and just keep it there the energy usage lowers big-time.”

One of the flies in the ointment has been securing a local certified technician to do annual service on the heat pumps.

To remedy that, the community has partnered with Coastal Heat Pumps out of Victoria to provide maintenance on a quarterly basis.

Wilson said the Heiltsuk won an Indigenous Clean Energy Community Championship Award for the reduction in gas emissions.

“The heat pump initiative was a big part in that.”

With the award came $1.6 million toward other clean energy projects they want to pursue.

All of the departments within the nation that work on housing in any capacity have worked together and developed a memorandum of understanding.

“We are moving into a second pilot project to look at deeper retrofits for our homes,” Wilson said.

Additionally, all the homes in the community had an energy audit which will help toward determining what work will need to be done on them in the future to improve energy consumption.

Most of the homes were built from about 40 years ago and onward.

“Some of our homes had no heat source for as long as a decade. Unfortunately they used ovens as well as multiple plug-in heaters,” she said, adding there was house fire caused by an electric heater plugged into an extension cord.

Power for the Bella area comes from Ocean Falls, about 60 km. east.

Ocean IPP supplies power to BC Hydro’s Denny Island substation which is where BC Hydro has diesel backup generators.

From there it is transmitted through overhead lines down to the Coast Guard yard where submarine cable crosses to Campbell Island then back to overhead lines serving all of Bella Bella, said Dave Mosure, BC Hydro community relations coordinator.

“We have a project in place to be completed this spring to replace poles and conductors from the station in Shearwater to the submarine cable,” Mosure added.

READ MORE: B.C. Premier Eby signals ‘better co-operation’ with Ottawa on heat pumps

READ MORE: B.C. communities need to prep for heat dome-level events annually: doctors

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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