Huge Indigenous-owned solar farm opens in remote northern Alberta community

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An Indigenous-owned solar farm in remote northeastern Alberta, considered the largest project of its kind in Canada, celebrated its grand opening this week, bringing greater renewable energy independence to a community long dependent on diesel.The project is owned by Three Nations Energy, a joint venture of Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Fort Chipewyan Métis Association, all located in the hamlet of Fort Chipewyan.

The 5,760 solar panels will provide the remote community in northeastern Alberta with about 25% of its energy needs, according to the company.

Before the solar farm, Fort Chipewyan’s roughly 1,000 residents got their energy from the ATCO-owned diesel power plant, which burns three million liters of fuel every year that is trucked on ice roads or delivered by river barge.

The solar park is expected to replace 800,000 liters of diesel per year, which equates to approximately 2,376 tonnes of carbon emissions.

“We worked together and got there,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Tuesday at an event celebrating the completion of the second and final phase of the project.

“We work with the sun, we work with the wind, we work with mother nature and we work with water for the children of the future – to give them a better life, a cleaner life. “

Blue Eyes Simpson of the Fort Chipewyan Metis Association addresses the crowd at Tuesday’s inauguration, against the backdrop of the community’s 6,000-panel solar farm. (Nick Kendrick, Greenplanet Energy Analytics)

ATCO, the Alberta-based utility company, partnered with Indigenous owners throughout the project, including on design and engineering. The public service has 1,500 panels built during the first phase in June 2019.

“This is a very proud moment for all of us as a community. We have worked very hard together over the past few years, ”said Blue Eyes Simpson, vice president of the Fort Chipewyan Métis Association.

“We are switching to renewable energies”

With the completion of the 2.2 MWh capacity project, about 25 fewer tanker trucks will cross the winter ice road connecting the community to Fort McMurray, 220 kilometers to the south, according to the company. In summer, the community is only accessible by plane or barge.

Local leaders say the ice road is becoming increasingly unreliable due to climate change, as research shows Canada’s north is warming nearly three times faster than the global average.

“This energy project is bringing great happiness to our community as it takes less fuel to transport on the road,” Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Peter Powder said Tuesday.

The renewable energy project is the largest isolated, off-grid solar farm in the country, according to the federal government. Three Nations Energy says the profits will be reinvested in other green energy projects and education.

“We have always relied on fossil fuels, but we are moving to renewables,” Powder said.

An aerial view of the Fort Chipewyan Solar Farm, located next to the community airport. (Green Energy Futures / YouTube)

The $ 7.76 million project was funded by the provincial and federal governments. The federal government provided $ 4.5 million and the Government of Alberta added $ 3.3 million.

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan called the solar farm a model for Canada’s energy future.

“We welcome your determination to build energy capacity to reduce the community’s dependence on diesel, reduce pollution and address a climate crisis that has had a particularly heavy impact on your region,” O said ‘Regan in pre-recorded remarks during a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday.

ATCO will purchase power from the solar park under a long-term purchase agreement and supply it to the local power grid, which is disconnected from the provincial grid.

“Indigenous peoples must have a stake in resource projects if there is a healthy future for our vital resource industry,” said Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations for Alberta, in a pre-recorded video.

“Projects like this will benefit generations to come. ”

Three Nations Energy does not plan to stop with the solar farm. The company is looking to add a wood-burning business and sustainable hydroponic food production to the community, with the help of project managers at the Greenplanet Energy Analytics solar farm.

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