Things are on the move in Ouje-Bougoumou. Not only has the community just received its full status under the Cree Naskapi Act, but the ever-expanding Ouje is focussing on its energy sources.

The community has long been at the cutting edge of energy efficiency and self-sufficiency when, in 1992, it set up an innovative district heating system that is fuelled by sawdust waste purchased from local sawmills.

At the centre of much of the activity is Freddy Bosum, Director of Capital Projects and Public Works, who is in the charge of the district heating system. Currently he’s faced with a major problem: the cost of sawdust has jumped a whopping 700%.

“Until now we have been paying $6 a tonne, now the company Barrette-Chapais wants $50 a tonne,” explained Freddy Bosum. “We have spoken to another company, Les Chantiers de Chibougamau, and they indicated that the current market price is between $50 and $60.”

In light of this staggering increase, Bosum said the community is looking at alternate possibilities. “We are exploring the possibility of using wood chips. This would also mean an increase in cost, since wood chips cost $75 a tonne. We are going to do a test run in the very near future to see if using wood chips will increase efficiency. We have to do an analysis to see if the boilers will run more efficiently.”

Freddy Bosum pointed out that currently all of the community’s boilers are running at full capacity due to the increase in demand for heating and hot water. “We are even using the oil boiler. It was set up for emergencies and backup, now it’s being used all the time. We are burning too much oil, and our costs are rising.”

It’s a problem that needs to be fixed as quickly as possible, because, as Freddy Bosum pointed out, the situation will become even more acute since the community is rapidly expanding. “We are adding 18 new houses, and next year, we are planning on constructing a courthouse. Plus, the Cree Health Board will be getting a building. This means we will have to expand the district heating system again. So we need to keep an eye on the cost.”

At the same time, a new energy project is being planned in Ojue, one that would involve the community generating its own electricity. Economic Development Officer Randy Bosum said the project involves using Lake Barlow and the flow off the Chibougamau River as a source to generate hydro power.

“At the moment, we are in the development stage and working on an environmental impact assessment. We are looking at two options: a small project involving 0.9 megawatts, and a larger project at 9 megawatts. We are doing preliminary assessments on both,” Randy Bosum stated.

“The smaller project would use the natural flow of the water, so it would have a minimal impact on the environment. The larger project includes a small dam, and that might have impacts on the environment.”

This project would generate electricity for Ouje and make it even more self-sufficient. “The small project would create enough energy to supply only the community. However, the larger one would create excess energy, which we would like to sell to Hydro-Québec, if they are interested,” explained Randy Bosum.

“Once the assessment has been done, we hope to talk with Hydro-Québec sometime before the end of the summer and to discuss a potential power purchase agreement.”

Now it’s Randy Bosum’s job to convince the community of the project’s viability and value. “I need to sell the project to my community and see if they are in agreement with it and will support it. We are already talking to the tallymen, to the families, to the community members, and especially to the youth. There are many people who already support it, but there are some who don’t understand, so we need to explain it to them.

“We are working with the tallymen and getting them involved as much as possible. There is work that needs to be done at the local level, so we try to give them as much work as possible. Even though we are just doing studies, they help us in terms of guiding, providing information and consulting.”

Randy Bosum said an important step in the process is coming up very soon. “At our next board meeting (in mid-July) we are going to recommend establishing a negotiating team. We already have some names in mind, but the board needs to give us their blessing.”