Fort Folly First Nation makes big switch to solar energy
7 N.B. Mi’kmaq communities are installing panels through low carbon fund
Four buildings in Fort Folly First Nation will soon be completely powered by the sun, as part of a move toward renewable energy in Mi'kmaw communities across New Brunswick.
Chief Rebecca Knockwood said the project is an investment in the future.
"As First Nations people, we're protectors and keepers of the lands and of the environment. And we want to try and reduce our carbon footprint," she said.
In Fort Folly, about 40 minutes drive southeast of Moncton, near Dorchester, solar arrays are being installed on the roofs of the band office and community centre, and on ground mounts in front of the former bingo hall and the building that houses the community's fisheries habitat recovery program.
Once complete, those buildings will be entirely carbon neutral.
Reduced carbon footprint
Natural Forces, a Halifax-based renewable energy company, approached communities with interest in submitting proposals under the federal government's low carbon economy fund.
The grant helps cover the upfront cost of the installation.
Seven Mi'kmaw communities in New Brunswick, including Fort Folly, are installing 17 solar panel projects onto schools, daycares, band offices and other buildings.
Roby Douglas, vice president operations for Natural Forces Solar, said the shift in sustainability for those First Nations will be significant.
"Especially here in Fort Folly, this is a relatively small community and so it's going to make a meaningful impact on the overall power bills that are paid here and the overall carbon footprint," he said.
Roby said solar has had a reputation for being expensive, but costs have come down in recent years.
"It's now much more economic for communities and for individuals to put solar panels up and start generating their own clean electricity," he said.
'Exciting for the community'
The solar panels will take five years to pay off, before generating about $17,000 per year. That extra revenue is being considered to offset costs for employment and youth programs.
N.B. Power's net metering program allows individuals and organizations to install up to 100 kW of solar on a building. The owner receives credits for days where surplus electricity is produced, which offset the days with limited sunlight.
Knockwood said people in Fort Folly have talked about looking into wind turbines as a next step.
"We're going to do solar first and see how that works, and then go from there," she said.
"It's exciting for the community. I'm pumped to see this happen."