Fort Chipewyan going solar

Posted by: Meagan Wohlberg 10 months, 1 week ago

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The community of Fort Chipewyan is embracing the power of the Sun in hopes that solar panels will reduce the cost of living and be an environmental alternative to their fuel-based power and heating systems.

This summer, two pilot projects will see a home in the community and cabins on the land converted to solar energy, to be ready to go this fall.

Residents of Fort Chip first embarked on their quest for clean energy last fall when a team of community members, now called the Fort Chip Alternative Energy Project, partnered with local environmental organization Keepers of the Athabasca to investigate alternative energy potentials for the isolated hamlet in northern Alberta.

After sparking a great deal of interest, the groups met again last Monday, bringing in an on-grid solar consultant from Anzac and a local trapper running off-the-grid solar at his cabin to the community for some discussion. According to Jesse Cardinal of Keepers of the Athabasca, attendees didn't want to waste any time getting to work on the project.

"We're doing a short-term, small project that we're going to get up and running in the next couple of months," she told The Journal. "One is a home in the community set up on solar on the grid, and then we are going to look at the cabin that's off-grid and work with the trapper who's already put two years into it and use his cabin as a pilot project to build up a really good working system of off-grid solar living - to use his cabin as a model."

Cardinal said the idea behind the project is to inspire and educate the community about the potential benefits of solar energy.

"The purpose of it is to have a home in the community so people can see what it looks like, how it runs and what the benefits of it are, so that they then want their home on solar," she said. "Alberta has the largest solar capability out of all the provinces in all of Canada. The amount of sun that we get could power all of Alberta."

An elder in the community has offered her home up as the guinea pig for the project, but details are still being finalized. Though the intention is to eventually have as many people on solar as possible in the community - for environmental and financial reasons - the first attempt will be to work with an elder.

"When we had our initial meetings, we had elders come forward and tell us about the cost of their power bills and how hard it is just to pay their bills. If you look at an elder who lives, possibly, just on pension, half of their income, if not more, is going to power and heat. So, the initial intent of switching to solar is to get to net zero, so they may not make a profit, but they will have no power bill, because the cost of living up north is ridiculous," Cardinal said.

Interested members of the community will select a contractor to do installation and assessments of the home for energy efficiency in the next few weeks. They'll also be bringing in an expert on off-the-grid solar to assist with setting up the cabins.

The team will also be working on securing funding from all levels of government for the project, which is intended to be a long-term endeavour led by the community.

"This is just the initial stage," Cardinal said. "This is an introduction to the community of Fort Chip on alternative energy. What we're doing now is just getting a short-term project up and going to get the mindset of alternative energy out there, but the feasibility is a long-term project where we're going to be bringing in experts to identify the possibilities of other energy potential - what would be best suited for Fort Chip: Is it wind? Is it solar? Is it small-scale hydro? So we'll have experts coming in to assess, and then we'll present that to the community.

"As we go along, we're gaining more and more community interest. So we want more people involved in the decision-making and hopefully have leadership involved, that they can provide funds as well."

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