Old Crow wants to build Yukon’s largest solar plant

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is planning to build the Yukon’s largest solar array in Old Crow.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is planning to build the Yukon’s largest solar array in Old Crow.

The proposal for a 330-kilowatt solar array and a storage facility to be built just north of the Old Crow airstrip is currently being reviewed by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

The solar panels could displace 17 per cent of Old Crow’s electricity demand, which is currently supplied almost entirely by diesel. If the proposal goes ahead, the community would be powered entirely by solar energy during certain periods of the summer.

“It is costly to bring diesel fuel to Old Crow and on top of that the power plant is running 24/7,” said William Josie, director of natural resources with the First Nation. “We just want a little bit of energy security.”

Josie said the community has been interested in alternative energy since the 1990s. In the last four years, the First Nation partnered with Vancouver-based Sea Breeze Microgrid Systems to develop a solar project proposal. It also received an ecoENERGY grant last year to complete a feasibility study, which is ongoing.

The Fist Nation submitted a proposal to YESAB in March. It estimates that the solar array could reduce the community’s diesel consumption by 97,619 litres each year.

Josie said the project has the community’s full support.

“We’ve been going after a project like this for a long time,” he said. “So when we updated the people this spring, they said ‘Why another update? Just go and do it.’”

With a capacity of 330 kilowatts, the Old Crow solar array would be by far the largest in the territory. As a comparison, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources confirmed that three solar systems recently installed on community buildings in Burwash Landing have a combined capacity of just 42 kilowatts.

Old Crow already has solar panels installed on its research centre and cultural centre. The 11.8-kilowatt system on the research centre is one of the largest in Yukon.

Josie said the solar array will be owned by the community, but the First Nation still needs to find financing for the project, which he estimates will cost $2.3 million to build. He said revenue from power production should pay off the capital costs within about 11 years and the community then stands to make about $300,000 a year from the panels, according to the feasibility study.

The First Nation will have to negotiate a power purchase agreement with ATCO Electric Yukon, which currently supplies the community’s diesel power.

He said federal funding sources might include the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Polar Knowledge Canada. The First Nation will also approach the Yukon government, he said.

“With the amount of fuel we truck into the Yukon and that cost, we’re just trying to save some money for other, more important projects,” Josie said.

Though much work remains, Josie hopes construction will begin in 2017. He said the First Nation plans to work with Yukon College to train community members to maintain the facility and replace the solar panels when necessary.

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

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