Deer Lake recently completed the largest solar project undertaken in the Sioux Lookout zone by installing a solar power system in the community’s elementary school.
“We are always looking for alternative energy,” said Deer Lake Chief Royle Meekis. “We did some research in the community and we decided we should try some solar panels to see if we can alleviate some of the load from hydro.”
Deer Lake’s 1,100 on-reserve citizens currently use power from a 149-kilowatt run-of-river hydro project, built in 1998 on the Severn River, and a diesel power plant.
Meekis said the solar project will enable the community to use the power that had been consumed by the school to “hook up” additional housing for community members.
“I’m hoping that we can be part of an ongoing energy saving system,” Meekis said. “Maybe other communities would be more than willing to go that route if we are successful.”
Meekis said the solar panel system includes batteries to store power for when the sun is down.
“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.”
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.”
Geordi Kakepetum, CEO of NCC Development, was pleased with the groundbreaking project. NCC Development is an energy management company established by the Keewaytinook Okimakanak chiefs.
“I’ve been working with the chiefs to bring their vision into reality for over twenty years,” said the former KO executive director. “First we had K-Net Services and then KO Medicine, KiHS and KMobile. Then, the chiefs gave me a new challenge — take the lessons learned in building the K-Net Network and come up with a solution to the diesel energy crisis faced by many remote communities.”
Kakepetum said the solar project is part of three years of work by NCC Development and its partner Canadian Solar.
“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.”
Kakepetum said the Deer Lake Elementary School helps reduce the community’s reliance on diesel fuel power plants.
“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.”
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