British Columbia

Fort Nelson First Nation gets $40.5M federal funding for clean energy project

The Fort Nelson First Nation in northeastern B.C. has received funding from Ottawa to keep its $100-million geothermal energy project afloat. 

Clarke Lake Geothermal Project will revitalize local economy devastated by pandemic, says Chief Sharleen Gale

The $100-million Clarke Lake Geothermal Project would generate enough energy to power up to 14,000 homes. (B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation)

The Fort Nelson First Nation in northeastern B.C. has received funding from Ottawa to keep its $100-million geothermal energy project afloat. 

Last Friday, Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan announced an investment of nearly $40.5 million on the Clarke Lake Geothermal Development Project, which could create up to 15 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power 14,000 homes.

"Innovative, renewable energy projects like Clarke Lake showcase Indigenous communities' leadership in fighting climate change and their commitment to Canada's clean energy future," said O'Regan in a news release.

The Clarke Lake Geothermal Project will use existing infrastructure like roads, well pads and the occasional well from the Clarke Lake gas field located near the Fort Nelson First Nation.

It would create power by moving warm liquid from about 2.5 kilometres below ground to the surface. Heat from the liquid — a mix of water and minerals — is passed through a heat exchanger and transferred to a fluid that boils at a low temperature. Steam from that process is used to spin a turbine and create electricity.

Most of the project's $100-million cost has been secured through commercial financing. 

Last year, the First Nation was still being troubled by a $6.3-million shortfall which, if not resolved by March 31, could lead to the federal government's withdrawal of its $40.5 million investment. 

But the gap was finally filled last month with $2 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada and the remaining $4.3 million from other government grant programs the First Nation declines to specify.

Chief Sharleen Gale says the Fort Nelson First Nation was able to close the $6.3-million shortfall last month to secure $40.5 million in federal funding. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Chief Sharleen Gale says she expects the testing of the project to be completed in June and to become ready for use in 2024.

"Right now, we're just focusing on the training and employment planning [for the geothermal project]," she said Tuesday to Andrew Kurjata, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Gale says the project will help revitalize the economy and bring hope to members of the First Nation, many of whom had to move away due to financial hardship amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says geothermal energy can be used for greenhouses that the First Nation can build to provide food security to its members.

Chief Sharleen Gale at the Clarke Lake geothermal site. Gale says she expects the project to be ready for use in 2024. (Submitted by Chief Sharleen Gale)

"We know how challenging it has been as you move more north to Fort Nelson … the prices for food start to increase tremendously," she said. "[It] would be very life-changing for people to be able to eat fresh produce … from the greenhouses."

Gale says the project will reduce carbon emissions, but also be able to provide low-cost energy to heat the homes of elders.

On top of federal funding, the Clarke Lake Geothermal Project has received almost $1 million from the B.C. government, including $430,000 through the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund.

Tap the link below to hear Chief Sharleen Gale's interview on Daybreak North:

Chief Sharleen Gale shares her hopes for a new geothermal energy project being explored near her community. 7:39

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With files from Daybreak North and What On Earth

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