Making A Statement in Fort Chip

In the heart of the oil sands and northeast Alberta, Fort Chipewyan often finds itself at the centre of the discussion about our energy future. It is also a remote community and most of the 450 homes in Fort Chip rely on off-grid diesel fuel for heating. Heating a home with trucked in diesel fuel is expensive – it can cost up to $3,500 a year to heat a single home. There is also an environmental cost, as this kind of heating generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

To combat these costs, the community, with the help of the Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Society, has been looking to alternative energy for years. They have considered biomass (wood pellets), wind, and solar as potential challengers to diesel fuel. Trappers have tinkered with solar over the years, and wind may complement solar in certain areas, but both have faced barriers to implementation in the past.

In recent years, many of the challenges related to the use of renewable energy have been removed. The price of solar has come down dramatically and the community was also given a boost thanks to collaborative efforts with the Pembina Institute and the Committee for Indigenous Ecological Resources. In 2012, Pembina conducted a baseline energy study that revealed exactly how renewables could help meet energy demands in the community.

As a result of these changes, the Keepers of the Athabasca were able to complete an installation of a 1.8 KW solar array on the elders lodge in Fort Chip on September 19th of this year. The solar panels, in tandem with deep cycle storage batteries, can provide up to 72 hours of emergency power for the lodge when needed. Throughout the process, the project team trained many people in the community to learn the skills necessary for installation. This group of young people, including carpenters and electricians, completed this installation and are now ready to do more projects in the future.

The project team first had the vision for this project seven years ago. Building the will and the skills to execute the project takes time, as does finding enough revenue to get started. Jesse Cardinal detailed some of the challenges with getting the project going.

“At the time we were looking for funding, it was a new thing in Alberta, and funding was hard to find for this kind of work. Receiving funding from Alberta Ecotrust, who was the first organization to invest in this phase of our project, made a huge difference in getting started.”

The energy study and the demonstration site at the elders lodge have generated a huge amount of interest in the community. Building on this enthusiasm, they are planning several more solar installs in the coming year. The project was particularly important to the Keepers of the Athabasca. They want to be an organization that doesn’t just talk about issues and alternatives, but also show change in action.

In Fort Chip, renewables aren’t just an alternative to expensive fuels, but are also in harmony with the traditional ways of First Nations communities. In the words of Harvey Scott, a Director with the Keepers of the Athabasca, “We see this as the future of not only Northern communities, but the earth as well.”

 

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This story is the first in our 12 Grants of Christmas series. In the days leading up to Christmas we will be featuring some of the best projects and stories from our grantees in the last year. Please return to our blog in the coming days and weeks to learn more about the incredible environmental work being done across Alberta. Other stories:

1. Making a Statement in Fort Chip

2. Living With Coyotes

3. Calgary Can: Recognizing People for their Environmental & Economic Contributions

4. Answering Hard Questions in Our Grasslands

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