Five Deer Lake families will soon have new homes thanks to the installation of a groundbreaking solar power system at the Deer Lake School.
“To reduce peak load and connect five more homes, we developed a three-part plan, including conservation, load shifting and installing a PV (photovoltaic) solar system,” said Deer Lake Chief Royle Meekis.
“This is important not only for the families who are waiting to move into these new houses, but for all of Deer Lake.”
The five homes were built about two years ago but have since been sitting idle due to a lack of hydro power in the community of about 1,100 on-reserve members.
“Once the (solar power system) is up and running, hopefully at the end of (April), the community will be able to pursue other community interests like hooking up the confectionary store or restaurants, whatever the community needs,” said Geordi Kakepetum, CEO of NCC Development LP, a First Nations renewable energy management company serving the six Keewaytinook Okimakanak communities.
“They can’t do that right now because there is not enough power. So it’s going to open a lot of doors for the community to do what they want to do as a community.”
The Deer Lake School solar power system, the largest off-grid solar installation in an Ontario remote access community, is designed to alleviate most of the school’s energy load during daylight hours, which will enable the community to use that power elsewhere.
Deer Lake provided $500,000 of the total $600,000 in funding for the project while the federal government provided about $100,000.
“Hopefully we can save fuel when the school (day) is over,” Meekis said. “When you’re not using the facility, you can pretty well turn everything off just so it functions.”
Deer Lake celebrated the grand opening of the solar power system on April 15 with a tour of the Deer Lake School and a feast for visiting dignitaries, including company executives, First Nation chiefs and government officials, and community members.
“The school will save money because the hydro bill is so much every month,” said Ila Mawakeesic, principal of Deer Lake School. “We can spend that money on other stuff — equipment and school supplies.”
Kakepetum said the Deer Lake School solar power system is just the first of many planned for First Nation communities across northern Ontario.
“We want to build a solar farm (at Deer Lake) and connect it to the grid,” Kakepetum said. “So whatever excess (power) we generate from the solar farm, the community can sell it to Ontario Hydro or whoever. Once the hydro line comes in, we can tie the (solar farm) into it and whatever we generate, we (can) sell it back to the grid.”
Kakepetum said NCC Development LP has a mandate from the six KO communities to look at developing alternative energy projects, including solar, run-of-river and wind power projects.
“One of our goals is to make money for the six communities that we represent,” Kakepetum said.
“So we began to look at ways and means that we could bring money and how we could be in business like any other corporation in Canada and in the world.”
NCC Development LP has already identified more than 80 First Nation and remote communities for potential renewable energy projects.
“NCC is optimistic in moving forward with our partner Canadian Solar, as we continue to build strategic collaborative efforts with leaders in the solar and renewable energy industry to foster sustainable development of Canada’s indigenous communities,” Kakepetum said. “As North America’s largest producer of solar power solutions, Canadian Solar’s industry leading experience and expertise will greatly contribute to our efforts.”
Shawn Qu, chairman and CEO of Canadian Solar Inc., one of the world’s largest solar power companies, said the partnership with NCC Development LP began about three years ago.
“It underscores our strong commitment to Canada, helping to bring solar power to areas previously unable to get connected to the grid,” Qu said. “Solar is a green, flexible, low-cost and sustainable energy solution for these underserved First Nations and other rural areas. We are proud of our involvement in this important effort and the direct impact we will have on so many deserving families.”
Kakepetum said the diesel fuel power plants that serve most remote First Nation communities are not sustainable as fuel prices continue to increase.
“Some of the First Nations we serve spend between one million and two million dollars a year transporting diesel into their communities,” Kakepetum said. “This is not sustainable. There is not enough energy to build houses, public building or to support economic development.”
Although Deer Lake already uses power from a 149 kilowatt run-of-river hydro project, built in 1998 on the Severn River, the community still has to rely fully on its diesel fuel power plant whenever there is not enough water flowing to provide hydro power, such as during the winter months.
“Together with Canadian Solar, NCC Development has taken the first steps towards reducing diesel consumption and replacing (it) with the power of the sun,” Kakepetum said. “Today, working with our partners, we have designed a solar micro grid that will substantially reduce the use of fossil fuels in the far north.”
Meekis said the run-of-river hydro project has saved the community a significant amount of money and diesel fuel over the years.
“We have to think of saving money and energy and fuel,” Meekis said. “The freight (for diesel fuel) is a killer for any First Nation.”
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