Eric Labrecque is moving Yukon households away from fossil fuels

Eric Labrecque is cleaning up the energy in Yukon homes.

At 28, Eric runs the Yukon Conservation SocietyYukon Electric’s successful thermal storage demonstration project, which removed 45 homes from fossil fuel use last year. The project is primarily funded by Natural Resources Canada.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are tackling the climate crisis. These extraordinary human beings give me hope. I write these stories to return the favor.

Living in a small, efficient space like this tiny house helps Eric Labrecque reduce his home’s heating needs and carbon footprint. Photo courtesy of Eric Labrecque

Tell us about the project.

It takes a lot of energy to keep us warm in the winter! Our electricity comes primarily from hydropower, but especially during peak load times: winter mornings and evenings, Yukon Energy Corporation (YEC) has had to burn diesel and natural gas to keep the lights on.

We install ceramic bricks as part of electrical thermal storage systems. These heat up during off-peak hours and release their heat throughout the day. They act like a battery, but with no limit to how many times they can be charged and discharged. This smoothes electrical demand and reduces YEC’s need to use fossil fuels. While the project is the first of its kind for northern Canada, the technology has been used successfully in Alaska and further south, including Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Do the owners like change?

We had over 300 applicants for our 45 project locations. Almost all participants would recommend it to their neighbors. The systems proved to be efficient and reliable even during the coldest night of the year, when the wind chill was -54 C.

Electric thermal storage systems (ETS), like this furnace, can heat homes and businesses using electricity during off-peak hours, such as overnight. Photo courtesy of the Yukon Conservation Society

Are there other benefits??

At 28, Eric Labrecque leads the Yukon Conservation Society’s successful Yukon Electrical Thermal Storage Demonstration Project. #ClimateYouthAction

All applicants had a home energy assessment to help improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Often it is best to improve the insulation, airtightness and windows of a house. It has been fantastic to see people feel good about taking concrete steps to reduce their own dependence on fossil fuels and their carbon footprint. Yukons love the natural world and we all want to do our part to preserve it for future generations.

At the community level, interest is so strong that a local entrepreneur is exploring the possibility of making bricks from local mining waste. We have trained 15 local contractors to do the installations and will train more this year.

The Yukon Conservation Society presented our research to the Yukon government, showing that our territory could go a long way toward meeting its climate commitments using electric thermal storage and heat pumps adapted to cold weather. But this would require a redesign of much of the Yukon power grid, as the current distribution system was designed around the use of fossil fuels. I was delighted and a little surprised to see that action was taken immediately. An in-depth study to find the best way forward for the modernization of our network for heating and transport electrification is now fully funded and underway.

How did you get to this job?

In grade 11, I went with my high school to Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. I was struck by the dissonance between the community’s connection to the land and its dependence on diesel. Diesel spills regularly, emits greenhouse gases, is very expensive, and its fumes harm your health. I decided at that time to dedicate my career to supporting Northern communities’ quest for clean energy sovereignty.

I studied sustainable and renewable energy engineering at Carleton University and got my master’s degree at the University of New Brunswick, focused on remote community power and electrical thermal storage. Along the way, I ended up in the Yukon. I helped design this project while I was working at the University of Yukon, so when the funding came through to hire a project manager, it seemed like it was made for me.

By attending the Fireweed Community Market each summer, the Yukon Conservation Society strengthens its ties with the community and helps keep Yukons “in the loop” about all the exciting work it’s doing, including the thermal storage project electrical (ETS). Photo courtesy of the Yukon Conservation Society.

What makes your job hard?

I had only ever managed projects with budgets under $1,000, so taking the lead on this $2 million company was a huge leap. We launched our promotional campaign looking for homeowners to volunteer right when the pandemic started and redesigned our entire engagement strategy along the way. I’m worried that something could go wrong and people who have faith in us could lose heat. It is a huge responsibility. But I have a lot of support and everyone stays warm.

What’s next for you?

I joined Yukon Energy to continue my quest for a future free of fossil fuels.

How did the way you were raised impact you?

My dad had a habit of throwing out random questions for us to answer creatively. When he was 10 years old, I “designed” an ecological hovercraft that works with solar and wind energy. It would never have worked, but I was celebrated for imagining the possibilities. When my high school teacher included me in the Qikiqtarjuaq journey, this whole world opened up to me.

Eric Labrecque’s little house outside of Whitehorse. He has enjoyed living in this cozy, energy-efficient space since early 2020. Photo courtesy of Eric Labrecque

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Take some time to figure out where your personal and home energy comes from; that’s the first step to reducing your carbon footprint. Then he starts to break it down. Even small actions add up over time.

Climate change touches every part of our lives, so there is a way to harness your passion to help us work on climate change.

What about older readers?

While we may not be a large jurisdiction in the Yukon, we can lead by example. Remember that local actions can have a ripple effect in Canada and around the world.

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