$21M Cowessess First Nation solar project now up and running

A multimillion-dollar solar power project owned primarily by the Cowessess First Nation is now online.

Profits will be used to reinvest in renewable energy projects, says Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme

Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme says the project will bring the First Nation economic prosperity for the next 20 years. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

A multimillion-dollar solar power project owned primarily by the Cowessess First Nation is now online.

The $21-million Awasis solar project, located on Cowessess First Nation reserve land about three kilometres southeast of Regina, marked its official grand opening on Wednesday.

It will provide 10 megawatts of solar energy to the provincial grid — enough to provide power to 2,500 homes per year on average, according to SaskPower.

Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme hopes this project will inspire other Saskatchewan First Nations to take part in renewable energy projects.

"What Cowessess is doing today, you can do too," Delorme said at a celebration event Wednesday afternoon.

"Just make sure you are at the table, knowing your values and empowering specialists to help lead a project of this nature to what we know we are capable of."

Awasis solar panels stand on Cowessess First Nation Land about three kilometers southeast of Regina. (CBC)

The solar project was developed by Awasis Solar LP, a partnership between Cowessess First Nation and Elemental Energy. Cowessess currently owns 95 per cent of Awasis, and Elemental Energy owns the remaining 5 per cent.

Chief Delorme said the First Nation will have full ownership in the first five years. 

Awasis is the Cree name of the Cowessess's last hereditary chief, Littlechild, and the solar project's name is meant to honour the chief, "who agreed to treaty, which led us to this relationship today," said Delorme.

The power generated by the plant will be sold to SaskPower for the next 20 years as part of a power purchase agreement.

"This project is going to bring 20 years of economic prosperity," Delorme said. 

Part of the revenue from the project will go toward Cowessess's goal of becoming Canada's greenest First Nation.

"We will use the revenue from this project to reinvest in our renewable energy projects," Delorme said.

"Secondly, some of the profit will go to unfunded areas — language, family and culture off and on reserve."

Federal funding helps Cowessess-led project

Work on the site began in 2019, with Cowessess citizens managing the Awasis project. 

Delorme credits the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action 92 — which focuses on economic reconciliation — for helping making the project a possibility. 

The federal government provided $18.5 million to Awasis for the project, allowing Cowessess to partner with companies like Elemental Energy. 

"I think we all agree that we need to be thinking about how we build more renewable energy and non-emitting sources of energy into our grids," said federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who attended Wednesday's event.

"It's going to be critical not only to achieve our climate goals but also to have a competitive economy going forward."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spoke at the celebration. (CBC)

Awasis "is a great example of partnership between the province, the federal government and, of course, the First Nation who led the project," said Wilkinson.

Awasis is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 14,000 tonnes in its first year of operations, according to a federal government news release, and by approximately 350,000 tonnes over the 35-year expected lifespan of the project.

The total is equivalent to the emissions of over 70,000 gas-powered cars driven for one year, according to the federal government's news release.

A grand opening celebration was held at the Awasis solar plant Wednesday afternoon. (CBC)