YESAB gives thumbs up to Old Crow solar project

A solar array planned for Old Crow is one step closer to reality after Yukon’s assessment board recommended on Monday that the project be allowed to proceed.

A solar array planned for Old Crow is one step closer to reality after Yukon’s assessment board recommended on Monday that the project be allowed to proceed.

The 330-kilowatt solar array, proposed by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, would be the largest in the territory.

The array is expected to displace 17 per cent of Old Crow’s annual electricity demand, and could reduce the community’s diesel consumption by nearly 98,000 litres each year. It could also supply all of Old Crow’s electricity needs for some periods during the summer.

The panels would be built near the Old Crow airstrip. Construction could begin as early as next summer, and the array is expected to last at least 25 years.

“This is just the right thing to do at this time,” said William Josie, the First Nation’s director of natural resources.

Josie said the First Nation is still working to find financing for the project. He previously estimated the construction cost at $2.3 million, but now says he’s not sure about that figure because solar technology is constantly changing.

The solar project is one of the finalists for this year’s Arctic Inspiration Prize, which could be worth up to $1 million. The winners of the prize will be announced Dec. 8.

Josie said he’s also “talking to people in the new Yukon government” about the project, and is hoping for federal funding as well.

A feasibility study has estimated the project could generate $300,000 in annual revenue.

In its recommendation report, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board identified the possibility of birds flying into the solar panels as the only major concern. But the board decided the overall risk to avian wildlife was low, and the project “will not have significant adverse environmental effects.”

Transport Canada and Nav Canada have both given authorization for the panels to be installed by the airstrip. The Vuntut Gwitchin government now has 30 days to issue an official decision about the project.

Josie said the solar project will be owned by a new community development organization that should be up and running in Old Crow by March.

“We see this entity as taking over this project and running this as an economic development opportunity.”

He said the project was offered to the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership, the First Nation’s business arm, but “they just can’t take it right now.”

According to Josie, there have also been preliminary discussions about a power purchase agreement with ATCO Electric Yukon.

But he said the next step is to get “some expert help” with planning the solar array. He said a working group has been set up to consult with people who’ve built similar projects.

“A lot of these things take years and years and you just have to be patient and always on top of it.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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