A remote First Nation in the northwest has unveiled a groundbreaking new energy project.

On Tuesday, Deer Lake First Nation cut the ribbon on a solar project that will provide enough power to run the school in the community.

Chief Royle Meekis said the project has economic and social benefits for the community of about 1,000 people, located 580 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

"We will save money on diesel fuel,” he said, “and, in the long run, it will save some dollars that we can use for educating our children."

In addition to its diesel generator, the community has a 490-kilowatt hydro generating station, constructed in 1998.

Taking the school off the grid will also give Deer Lake enough power so that families can move into five brand-new homes that have been boarded up for years.

Saves 'a lot of money'

The head of NCC Development, a company that formed three years ago to help First Nations reduce their reliance on diesel, was asked to help with the project.

"They're not able to get the full, adequate power from the diesel generators that they have,” Geordi ​​Kakepetum said.

"They kinda looked at me and asked me to find ways and means on how we can begin to initiate more capacity at the community level.”

As part of that process, two Canadian companies — Jazz Solar and Canadian Solar — installed 624 solar panels on the Deer Lake School's roof.

"This is a first step towards an energy program that'll help the First Nation save a lot of money, and what they typically burn in diesel fuel in powering the community," said Jazz Solar operations manager Kyle Edgington.

​Kakepetum said the Deer Lake project is only the first step in plans to establish solar capacity across the north.

This summer, he hopes to start another project in Fort Severn First Nation, Ontario's most northern community.