Bram Noble, a professor in the geography and planning department of the U of S College of Arts and Science

Gearing up to power the North with renewables

Canada has committed to an electricity system by 2030 that will be 90 per cent carbon non-emitting, a move that requires transitioning to renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass.

But the current impact assessment (IA) process used by public regulatory bodies for evaluating these projects can be expensive and time consuming because project proponents often have to address issues that repeatedly have been raised and answered in reviews elsewhere, says University of Saskatchewan researcher Bram Noble.

“We want to make the process more efficient without losing the effectiveness of the impact assessment process in moving projects forward,” he said.

Noble, a professor in the geography and planning department of the U of S College of Arts and Science, has been awarded an Insight grant of $92,000 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to develop an efficient IA process for renewable energy projects.

BY 2020, his team will analyze the environmental, social and economic impacts typically associated with wind energy projects across Canada and identify mitigation strategies and solutions to reduce adverse impacts. For instance, bird strikes on windmills are regularly raised as a concern, even though existing mitigation measures are effective.

His goal is to develop an open-access online IA toolkit to help project proponents, consultants, governments and communities plan better for wind energy projects. The process developed for wind energy can be applied broadly to other renewable energy projects such as solar and biomass.

“We are interested in identifying impacts people can expect from a proposed renewable energy project—the most controversial areas and those that lack certainty in effectively managing impacts on physical and social environments,” said Noble.

This project lays the foundation for a more comprehensive project his team will be proposing to SSHRC on renewable energy transition for northern Indigenous communities.

Team members are: Greg Poelzer, a political scientist in the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability; Kevin Hanna, a resource management expert at the University of British Columbia; and industry participant Ranjith Narayansamy, a senior business adviser for SaskPower.

The project is the second step of research that began with a SSHRC Connection initiative led by Poelzer to build a network of energy research.

Noble and Poelzer plan to seek SSHRC Partnership funding to research how to transition northern communities to renewable energy in ways that add local social, cultural and economic value, while managing the environmental impacts. The project involves researchers from across Canada, Alaska, Norway and Sweden.

The research fit well with the U of S priority of advancing reconciliation, Noble said.

“We are approaching this as one pathway toward energy security and self-sufficiency for northerners, and it opens the door to other opportunities,” he said. “We are trying to primarily add value to the North. If we get scholarly output that’s great, but it’s secondary.”

Sarath Peiris is Assistant Director in the Research Profile and Impact unit.

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