Old Crow looks to solar power to cut diesel use

William Josie of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation says the goal is to cut emissions in his community and also provide some economic opportunities. "We're pretty excited about this project."

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation says 1 in 6 homes could be powered by solar

The aim of the Old Crow solar project is to cut diesel consumption in the community by about 17 per cent. The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation says that would be good for the environment and the local economy. (Karen McColl/CBC)

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is making a pitch to dramatically cut use of diesel fuel in Old Crow, by generating and storing solar power.

The First Nation has submitted a proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) to install photovoltaic solar panels near the Old Crow airport, with batteries to store the power.

"We're pretty excited about this project," said William Josie, the First Nation's director of natural resources. "It's a good thing to do in this day and age."

Old Crow is a fly-in community, approximately 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. (CBC)

Right now, the fly-in community of about 300 people relies wholly on diesel power. It is Yukon's northernmost community, about 100 kilometres north of the the Arctic Circle. 

Josie says the community has been looking for years to develop alternative sources of energy, because "we want some energy security."

The First Nation's YESAB proposal also says that Old Crow's northern location means it is sensitive to a warming climate, and so it has an interest in reducing emissions.

97,619 fewer litres of diesel

Four years ago, the First Nation teamed up with Vancouver-based Sea Breeze Microgrid Systems to develop a plan. In 2014, the project was a finalist for the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Josie said it's taken a lot of work — and a feasibility study that was recently completed — to get to the point of making a submission to YESAB.

According to the project proposal, the solar panel array would generate an estimated 347.5 megawatt hours per year, enough to power one in six homes in Old Crow. That would reduce the community's diesel consumption by "roughly 97,619 litres per year."

The proposed solar photovoltaic array would occupy about 1 to 2 hectares north of the Old Crow airstrip. (YESAB)

The proposal also says that during the summer months, when the sun never sets in Old Crow, there could be periods when the community uses wholly solar power.

Conversely, there would be periods in the winter when there is little or no solar energy to harness.

'There's definitely challenges'

"The technology for solar power generation is changing rapidly," Josie said.

 "When we first looked at total cost of the project, when we started, it was somewhere around $3 million, now it's down to $2.3 million.

Josie says there's still a lot to do, such as finding money to help pay for the project and negotiating a power purchase agreement with the distributor ATCO Electric Yukon.

"There's definitely challenges," Josie said.

If all goes well, the First Nation plans to begin construction next year.

With files from Leonard Linklater