Colville Lake, N.W.T., turns to solar for reliable power

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation says it's found a way to keep the lights on and the costs down in Colville Lake, N.W.T. On average, the community of about 190 experiences one outage a week.

Community of 190 currently experiences one power outage a week

Crews installed a solar array in Colville Lake, N.W.T., in early October 2014. It's the first phase of a new power generation system that will make the community's energy supply more reliable. (Northwest Territories Power Corporation)

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation says it's found a way to keep the lights on and the costs down in Colville Lake, N.W.T.

With help from federal funds, it's constructed the first phase of a solar array. The final phase will arrive by winter road in March and NTPC says the new system will be running by the summer. 

For years, the community of about 190 has been dealing with unreliable diesel power.

"Their electricity needs have been steadily growing and it's been causing outages on the system," says Myra Berrub, NTPC's manager of energy services.

NTPC says there were 60 power outages last year — an average of one outage a week. 

Berrub says the cause could have been something as simple as a number of people having their ovens on at the same time. She says that would cause a spike to the system.

"We were getting a lot of these spikes and diesel can't meet those spikes very quickly, so every time you'd get a spike the diesel would shut down."

Band manager Joseph Kochon says the community has been looking for alternative forms of energy.

"It's pretty smelly to have diesel air and everything," says Kochon. "If we had it our way, we would find another way to generate energy.

"We're hoping it helps. It's kind of too early to celebrate."

The $2-million solar array will include a new battery system. NTPC says that will smooth out the delivery of power when the load on the grid is high.

"Solar power will be the first generation that will be used to meet the communities loads," Berrub says.

Diesel will then be the backup.

In the summer, NTPC expects Colville Lake to run completely off the solar power it generates. 

Currently, the power corporation says the community is one of the most expensive to power. It spends around $140,000 every year on diesel that can only be brought in once a year by winter road.

If the solar pilot goes well, NTPC says it would like to expand to other communities.

Lutselk'e to turn on new solar panels in January

Colville Lake isn't the only N.W.T. community moving towards solar power. 

Lutselk'e, on the east arm of Great Slave Lake, is preparing to turn on its new solar array on Jan. 26. 

The community's senior administrative officer, Agatha Laboucan, says it will meet about 20 per cent of the community's energy needs. 

Northwest Solar Incorporated installed the panels. A company spokesperson says it will take the community about eight years to pay for the system.