Greenpeace to bring solar panels — and film star Emma Thompson — to Clyde River

Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise is loaded with solar panels and headed to Baffin Island, as activists hope to show lawmakers that green energy will work in the Arctic.

People in Clyde River hope new solar panels will save money on expensive diesel fuel

Solar panels are hoisted onto the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise last Friday in St. John's, N.L. The vessel is bound for Clyde River, Nunavut. (Greenpeace)

The M/V Arctic Sunrise is loaded with solar panels and headed to Clyde River, Nunavut, where environmental activists hope to show lawmakers that green energy will work in the Arctic.

While some Northern communities have been experimenting with alternative energy sources for years, most of Canada's Arctic communities are still struggling to wean themselves off of diesel energy. 

People in Clyde River, pop. 983, are anxious to make their reliance on fossil fuels a thing of the past.

Jerry Natanine stands next to the Arctic Sunrise in port in St. John's, Newfoundland. (Greenpeace)
"For a while, we've been talking about finding solar panels," said former mayor Jerry Natanine, from aboard the Arctic Sunrise. 

"We had a great chance to do that through Greenpeace and figured we could save lots of money with our community hall diesel costs."

Clyde River gives project full support

Greenpeace held a public meeting in Clyde River last September, to gauge the level of interest in solar energy.

After a positive initial response, the group came back in April and decided the best building to house the panels would be the community hall. 

"We presented this information to the hamlet and the HTO and they voted unanimously to go ahead with the project," said Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada's Arctic campaigner. 

"Hopefully, this will send a strong message to industry and government, that solar energy can flourish in the Arctic."

In order to make renewable energy a viable option in the Arctic, Khan says the government will need to provide logistic and financial support. 

Emma Thompson, right, and Michelle Thrush, left, each brought their daughters along on a Greenpeace trip to the Norwegian Arctic last summer. (Courtesy Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace)

Emma Thompson brings star power

Clyde River first connected with Greenpeace when the activist group agreed to support their expensive court battle against the National Energy Board's decision to allow seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. 

"At the beginning of the case, when we wanted to appeal the NEB decision, we approached the Inuit organizations, NTI, QIA and they didn't want to take on the case," said Natanine.

"We approached other organizations because we were desperate. Our lives were in danger."

The unusual alliance has brought the small Nunavut community national attention — and it likely will again, as Emma Thompson, well known for her roles in films like Love, Actually and Sense and Sensibility, plans to travel to Clyde River to meet the Arctic Sunrise.

Khan says Thompson became interested in Clyde River's "David versus Goliath" battle with big energy companies about a year and a half ago. When he heard, Natanine invited her to come to the community and see what they're fighting for. 

'No' to big energy

Clyde River's seismic testing battle, and this solar energy push, show Clyde River is "saying no to the energy industry," said Khan.  

"But it's also about saying yes to renewable energy as a type of energy that aligns better with their values, and will allow them to continue the practices where they have been living in harmony with nature in the Arctic for so many thousands of years."

Thompson and her daughter Gaia Wise are set to meet the Arctic Sunrise when it arrives in Clyde River on Aug. 15. 

At that point an installer will train local residents on how to maintain the solar panels.