Spirits were energized in Eden Valley as residents converged to bless and celebrate the community’s first step towards energy efficiency on Aug. 20.
The First Nations reserve west of Longview held a launch event for the recent installation of 180 solar modules for its arena, providing the potential to produce 69.3 kilowatt hours of energy.
The system went online on Aug. 1 and produced 4,800 kilowatt hours in the first two weeks.
“I’m so proud, it’s wonderful,” said Eden Valley Band Coun. Rex Daniels. “It’s a very big achievement for Eden Valley. It’s going in the right direction.”
Daniels said about 30 community members and 15 elders played a major role in the project, which is estimated to offset more than half of the arena’s electricity consumption.
“People did a fabulous job in making it happen,” he said. “The elders were very supportive and so was the community members that participated. We all worked together. People really committed their time and effort into it.”
The $208,000 project was funded largely from the Province’s Indigenous Climate Leadership Initiative from the Indigenous Relations Ministry, as well as from the North Growth Foundation, Solar Now, Clean Energy Canada and TransCanada Energy.
“This project is really important because we spend a whole lot of money on electricity so I hope this project is going to get rid of most of the costs of our electricity bills,” said Daniels. “It’s a very positive step for our nation at Eden Valley.”
An energy audit of the building revealed that it didn’t measure up compared to other communities. Electricity costs for the arena in the 2017-18 fiscal year totaled $17,500.
Starting in June, Skyfire Energy built two rows of solar panels near the arena. It also hosted Solar 101 workshops, technical solar training and employed three Eden Valley residents, as well as a local business to install the fence surrounding the array of solar panels.
“We’ve worked with a number of First Nations previously,” said Skyfire Energy vice-president of sales, Greg Sauer. “We look at it is a partnership – what can we do with the First Nations. In Eden Valley they already had a committee looking at energy efficiency that was really targeted at building capacity internally.”
Sauer said a big part of the partnership is community education and outreach regarding alternative energy, including going into schools to do a presentation on electric cars.
Construction of the project began in June. While Skyfire initially considered putting the panels on the arena roof, Sauer said they realized the 30-35-year-old building was not strong enough to support it.
It was built in a nearby field instead.
The solar system is estimated to produce 92,100 kilowatt hours in its first year, which equates to enough electricity for 11.8 households and a greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent to 72.8 tons, said Sauer.
“There’s a lot of extra value being offered here and provided in terms of energy self-sufficiency and community capacity building,” he said. “These projects can do a lot of good.”
Hopeton Louden, Eden Valley chief administrative officer, said talks of solar energy had been in the works for more than a year after the previous government offered a stream of funding to support First Nations in moving into green energy.
“We’re observing the effects through hunting and animal patterns,” he said. “We decided to apply out of our concern about what’s happening and what the nation can do differently, as well as energy costs are quite high.”
Louden said the council will continue looking at ways to address its energy use and available funding.