How Old Crow's solar farm is changing green energy projects in Yukon

·2 min read
Solar panel arrays in Old Crow, Yukon. A similar solar project proposed in Beaver Creek, Yukon, would reduce the community's reliance on diesel and significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to the White River First Nation. (2019 GBP Creative Media/submitted by 3EYOND Consulting Group - image credit)
Solar panel arrays in Old Crow, Yukon. A similar solar project proposed in Beaver Creek, Yukon, would reduce the community's reliance on diesel and significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to the White River First Nation. (2019 GBP Creative Media/submitted by 3EYOND Consulting Group - image credit)

Last April, the rows of solar panels set up in Old Crow, Yukon, generated small amounts of energy for the first time.

By August, batteries at the solar farm stored enough power for the diesel energy generators to be completely turned off — a feat that chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation said hasn't happened in decades.

"Every time I see it, I just get a little bit awestruck," Tizya-Tramm said.

"Even though the solar farm is silent … it speaks very loudly across North America and the world."

Those involved with the solar farm say there's much that can be learned about how the project came to be that could be applied to new green energy projects in the Yukon and across the North.

'The project drove legislation'

Old Crow's solar farm is made up of over 2,000 panels, a 616kW battery energy storage system and micro-grid controller in the community. The system generates enough energy to meet 24 per cent of the annual power needs of the community of about 235 people.

Jane Sponagle/CBC
Jane Sponagle/CBC

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation also entered into a first-of-its-kind electricity purchase agreement with ATCO Yukon, agreeing to sell electricity generated from the solar facility for 25 years. The agreement lets citizens buy energy directly from their nation, lessening their dependence on diesel fuel shipments flown in from the provinces.

Alexandre Vigneault played many roles on the Old Crow project, including managing the design, procurement and construction process.

Part of what made the project a success, Vigneault said, was that the Yukon government created pieces of legislation to fit the project.

For example, Vigneault said the territorial government quickly created the independent power producer policy regulations needed to get the solar farm off the ground.

"It's really like … the project drove the legislation," Vigneault said. "It was an interesting process to be a part of."

Other projects modeled on Old Crow

The method is being adopted for other green energy projects underway, Vigneault said, in places like Beaver Creek and Watson Lake.

"All the other projects in the Yukon will be somehow modeled on … Old Crow," he said. "Yukon is really a leader on this one."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Tizya-Tramm said the only thing he would've changed about the project is that he would have started it sooner.

The solar farm has brought in over $400,000 to Old Crow, Tizya-Tramm said, which is being re-invested into other projects.

Tizya-Tramm recommended that other Indigenous governments take advantage of the funding support from several levels of government to start their own green energy projects like theirs.

"[The solar farm] is the beginning of a self-fulfilling prophecy of our people attaining energy sovereignty," he said.

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