Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations try geothermal

Hundred homes in Fisher River, Peguis get pumps

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Aki Energy executive director Darcy Wood addresses news conference Thursday at The Forks with Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson and Energy Minister Dave Chomiak, right.

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Aki Energy executive director Darcy Wood addresses news conference Thursday at The Forks with Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson and Energy Minister Dave Chomiak, right.

More Manitoba homeowners are installing geothermal pumps to heat their homes and the figures are about to get a boost thanks to a new on-reserve program.

More than 580 residential heat pumps were installed in 2011 -- the most recent data available from Manitoba Hydro. That reverses a two-year decline, though there were fewer businesses that chose to heat and cool their buildings using underground pipes.

'Using the power in the ground and the power in the community, we can build up the community' -- Energy Minister Dave Chomiak

This summer, 100 homes on the Peguis and Fisher River First Nations will get geothermal heat pumps installed as part of a new program announced Thursday that has already hired and trained more than two dozen First Nations people to do the work.

"Using the power in the ground and the power in the community, we can build up the community," said Energy Minister Dave Chomiak.

The installers, trained with the help of the Manitoba Geothermal Energy Alliance and the BUILD program, just wrote their certification exam and must still do six installations under the supervision of an expert installer. In just over a week, they'll begin work on 50 homes on the Fisher River First Nation and 50 in Peguis.

Next summer, those trained installers will fan out to four other First Nations, likely up north.

"With the capacity that's going to be built, we will help other communities outside our First Nations in addressing their geothermal needs," said Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson.

The province is fronting the $1.5-million capital costs and will recoup the money over the next 20 years through utility bill savings. Each house is expected to see its heating costs drop by $90 a month. Some of that savings will be passed on to the residents or the band, but most will go toward paying off the initial capital investment.

Geothermal heat pumps take homes off the electricity grid, especially in rural Manitoba where most homes don't have access to natural gas-fired furnaces. That allows Hydro to export the power or stretch out the length of time before a new multibillion-dollar hydro dam is needed.

The province has traditionally been a leader in geothermal pumps, but took some heat for the failure to use the technology on a large scale in Waverley West, the south Winnipeg suburb developed by the provincial government.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A10

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