Remote First Nations in Ontario’s Far North rely upon diesel for almost all of the electricity generated. This diesel dependency creates many problems for First Nations. The costs of diesel-generated power are high, and rising fuel prices and transportation costs are bankrupting many First Nations. One remote First Nation pays over $1.3 million dollars a year on fuel and transportation. With no all-season road access, remote First Nations must transport as much diesel fuel during the short winter road season as possible. Storage space is limited even if the winter road season is long enough to transport the significant amounts of diesel needed. Diesel must be flown in during shortfalls, which is even more expensive.
Using diesel fuel also hurts the environment. Minor diesel spills have destroyed infrastructure such as the elementary school in Attawapiskat while major diesel spills from the transportation of the fossil fuels by winter road, barge, or by air has the potential to destroy critical wildlife and fish habitat on the traditional territories of many First Nations. For example, a diesel spill near Fort Severn First Nation would devastate the denning areas of the last two remaining polar bear populations in Ontario. Spills in other territories would impact the caribou, sturgeon, and geese habitat – critical food sources of the First Nations peoples in the North.
The health impacts of diesel-generated electricity near our communities are also well documented.
Faced with rising environmental, health, and financial costs of diesel-generated electricity, several remote First Nations including Deer Lake, Fort Severn, Keewaywin, Poplar Hill, McDowell Lake, and North Spirit Lake mandated Geordi Kakepetum, then executive director of Keewaytinook Okimakak, to find a way to reduce diesel-generated electricity by 50%. They turned to Geordi because of his experience building the K-Net Network, the largest First Nations-owned and managed broadband network in Canada. Launched under Geordi’s leadership, the K-Network supports telemedicine, digital education, mobile, and other applications in over 80 First Nations in Ontario.
Geordi set to work to build bridges with those in the private and public sectors who shared the vision of the First Nations to replace dirty fossil fuels with the power of the sun. Working with partners such as Canadian Solar Inc. (CSI) for almost three years, Geordi helped develop a solar microgrid system customized for use in remote First Nations. Geordi recommended to the Chiefs that a standalone for-profit corporation be created to commercialize the solar microgrid solution. The Chiefs formed NCC Development LP as a wholly-owned energy management company serving their six First Nations.
The Chiefs’ vision is to see solar microgrid systems in each of their First Nations and across the region, Canada, and eventually remote Indigenous communities around the world. They want these solar microgrid systems to be owned and operated by the communities themselves and not by outside interests. This will create jobs in each First Nation, stimulate local economies, and create new revenue streams as remote First Nations become generators of power themselves, not just customers of electricity. The surplus power will be sold to mining, forestry, and other resource-based companies. When and if these communities are connected to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) provincial grid, electricity can also be sold to power generation companies to create a new clean revenue stream for the First Nations.
The revenue from solar microgrid systems and savings from decreased diesel use will allow First Nations to invest in their own priorities such as education, healthcare, and housing.
To realize the vision of the Chiefs, NCC Development LP must reduce reliance on diesel fuel for remote First Nations by 50% using a combination of strategies including the construction of solar microgrids, energy conservation, and load management.
It is with honour that I address you on behalf of NCC and its member First Nations. I would like to reflect upon why we created NCC and what our plans are for the future.
Chiefs from six First Nations – Deer Lake, Fort Severn, Keewaywin, McDowell Lake, North Spirit Lake, and Poplar Hill – asked me to find a way to reduce the need for diesel-generated electricity by 50%. Our reliance on diesel is bankrupting many First Nations. Those in the Far North must transport the diesel by ice roads and by air. Spills are also hurting the environment. We have already seen what a minor spill can do, closing the school in Attawapiskat. A major spill near Fort Severn could wipe out the last two denning areas for polar bear in Ontario. Finding an alternative to diesel for at least part of our energy needs will mean less of an impact on our health and the environment. It will also mean First Nations will be able to spend less money on diesel and more on other priorities including education, healthcare, and economic development.