Indigenous community in Northern Canada to offset diesel with solar panels

The Vuntut Gwitchin office in Old Crow, Yukon. (Karen McColl/CBC)
The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and ATCO Electric Yukon signed a historic 25-year energy agreement this week in Whitehorse.

The First Nation, based in Old Crow, Northern Yukon, is installing enough solar panels to offset 190,000 litres of diesel per year. ATCO will buy the solar energy, feed it into the power grid, and redistribute it to the community.

Old Crow is 127 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It’s the only fly-in community in Yukon, and it currently relies entirely on diesel as a source of electricity.

Major reduction

Offsetting 190,000 litres of the approximately 800,000 litres of diesel burned per year in total is a “very significant amount,” said Dana Tizya-Tramm, a councillor with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

“You see us going off diesel generators from March to September on very sunny days,” Tizya-Tramm said.

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Coun. Dana Tizya-Tramm says offsetting 190,000 litres of diesel per year is a ‘very significant amount.’ (Meagan Deuling/CBC)
Panels won’t harm berry picking

An area next to the Old Crow airport has been cleared for the panels to be set up.

Tizya-Tramm said that, in typical Old Crow fashion, several elderly women insisted the area is important for berry picking, so rows of bushes were left when the land was cleared. The solar panels will be installed around the bushes.

While elders saved the berry bushes, the impetus for the large-scale solar installation came from the community’s young people.

“Our young leaders, you know, they’ve had this vision for years now,” said Bruce Charlie, the chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. “Now we’re on the doorstep of reality, it’s very, very exciting for our community.”

Model for other communities
The solar panels will be installed near the Old Crow airport. Installation will start this summer. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Tizya-Tramm negotiated the deal with ATCO; he said it was the most technical file he’s worked on. He said the agreement will serve as a template for other communities who want to follow in the Vuntut Gwitchin’s footsteps.

“You have a lean and mean scrappy First Nation breaking a lot of the way in the Yukon,” said Tizya-Tramm.

The solar panels will be installed this summer. Next summer, they will be feeding energy into the power grid.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: World maritime body moves to ban dirty fuels in the Arctic, Radio Canada International

Finland: Power company to build first non-subsidised wind farm in Finland, YLE News

Russia: Arctic electric rally hits the road towards Northwestern Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden breaks ground on test plant for fossil-free steel production, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Authorities agree to new wetland mitigation guidelines in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Meagan Deuling, CBC News

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