Three First Nations incorporate solar power into affordable housing units

·4 min read

Let the sun shine in — solar power panels are better for the pocket and the planet. It was announced on this year’s summer solstice that the Kenpésq̓t (Shuswap Indian Band), Yaqan NuɁkiy (Lower Kootenay Band), and Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it (Tobacco Plains Indian Band) in the Columbia Basin are using solar-powered panels in their newly built affordable homes for their members. Between the three communities, the combined solar panels will generate approximately 200,000 kilowatt hours per year, which is enough to power 31 homes. This will improve the efficiency and sustainability, making homes for the members of these First Nations more comfortable and affordable. It is through the support of Columbia Basin Trust and the New Relationship Trust that this has been made possible.

“For several years, the Trust has been working with First Nations in the region to support their efforts to increase the availability and quality of affordable rental housing for community members,” said Mark Brunton, senior manager of delivery of benefits for the Columbia Basin Trust in a June 21 news release. “By adding solar panels, they will now be able to generate their own renewable energy and lower utility bills through net metering.”

In 2017 Columbia Basin Trust launched an in-depth support with affordable housing amongst the three First Nations after discussions were had. More than 80 affordable rental units have been completed or are in development since the initial launch. These First Nations are working together to enhance their asset management processes and capacity supported by the Trust, BC Housing, and Indigenous Services Canada.

Through assorted initiatives over the last 20 years, Columbia Basin Trust has helped 30 communities develop, build, upgrade or repair more than 3,500 housing units. They will provide $483,000 for solar panels, fibre, and training while the New Relationship Trust will provide $126,000 for solar panels for the three projects within the three First Nations. The Shuswap Band (Kenpésq̓t) created 143 affordable homes in 2020 and 2021, to which it will be adding solar panels. These include eight one-bedroom and five larger family homes.

“The solar panels will be good for the environment and reduce energy costs to our tiny homes and five new modular homes,” said Dolores Nicholas, housing manager for Shuswap Band affordable housing in the news release.

In 2018, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it built 12 units: a fourplex, a triplex, one duplex, one modular home and two mini homes, while Yaqan NuɁkiy has six units, which includes two small homes that were built in 2020 and 2021 as well along with four others beginning construction this year. First Nations will be adding solar power panels to the affordable housing for its members. Fibre optic cable will also be installed in the four new units under construction with the Yaqan NuɁkiy First Nation, which will give members the opportunity to enjoy a high-speed, and high-quality, Internet network.

First Nations members will be given the opportunity to learn how to install the solar panels and fibre optic cable, creating meaningful training opportunities while supplying knowledge and increasing experience. The New Relationship Trust provides funding programs for First Nation communities across B.C. It is an independent organization established by the New Relationship Trust Act, which was established in 2006. Dedicated to delivering grant programs to different First Nations throughout B.C. The New Relationship Trust works with governments and organizations to leverage funding sources that builds the capacity toward self-determination, improved environmental, governmental, social, and economic outcomes for Indigenous communities.

“The New Relationship Trust is proud to partner with Columbia Basin Trust to fund solar projects in First Nation communities that support energy sovereignty,” New Relationship Trust CEO Walter Schneider said in the news release. “We believe these innovative partnerships empower nation-building opportunities in First Nation communities in B.C.”

Columbia Basin Trust operates in the unceded traditional territories of the Ktunaxa, Lheidli T’enneh, Secwépemc, Sinixt and Syilx Nations, which run along the Columbia River and its tributaries within the Basin. For more information on the Trust’s work to support First Nations housing, visit ourtrust.org/firstnationshousing.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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