Saskatchewan First Nations’ solar energy projects are getting a boost.
An agreement between SaskPower and First Nations Power Authority (FNPA), the province’s Indigenous-governed not-for-profit utility corporation, will see $85 million worth of First Nations-led solar projects that will generate 20 megawatts of power to the provincial gird. The project, which is expected to be stretched over the next 20 years, is part of SaskPower’s goal to add 60 megawatts of solar power across the province by 2021.
“The opportunity is for (First Nations) to bring a project together and bring it to commercial operation in the future,” said Mike Marsh, president and CEO of SaskPower. “For their communities and for future generations I think it’s very important for them to be involved in this.”
FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild said renewable energy aligns with First Nations philosophy.
“Indigenous people are natural stewards of the land,” said Lonechild. “To live in harmony with Mother Earth and to create sustainable opportunities in the area of renewable energy is just a nice fit.”
Two 10-megawatt solar projects are under consideration for the partnership. One is a solar farm to be constructed by the George Gordon and Starblanket First Nations near Weyburn. The other is in partnership with Cowessess First Nation.
Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme said the project is a balanced blend between creating a business opportunity and making a positive impact on the environment.
“It brings a little bit of revenue back to the nation,” said Delorme. “At the same time, it allows us to continue to understand we’re playing our role looking after the future for our children and our children yet unborn.”
Cowessess already operates 400 kilowatts of solar power on land it owns just east of Regina. That project was unveiled last October.
Mike Star, Chief of Starblanket Cree Nation, expects the project to bing benefits to both his reserve and the George Gordon First Nation.
“We expect to train about a dozen members on installing solar panels,” he said.
Lonechild said 2,400 homes are to be powered through both projects and it’s predicted about 18,000 tons of C02 emissions will be offset. He added it won’t just be First Nations that will benefit.
“It helps provide sustainable revenue for landowners in the City of Weyburn, for example, (because) that land is leased,” he said. “It’s bridging Indigenous communities and others to say ‘We have a future in power generation.’ ”
He added solar isn’t the only renewable energy source FNPA is looking to work with. The organization is interested in geothermal and biomass, a form of energy that comes from organic material from plants and animals.
Delorme said Cowessess is keeping their eye on other forms of renewable energy, ensuring it can also bolster Cowessess’ economy.
Although no official power purchase agreements have yet been made with the First Nations involved, SaskPower hopes to have those secured later this year.