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Possible solar farm for Lutsel K'e
Project may reduce community's diesel use

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 9, 2013

Lutsel K'e is exploring the possibility of building a community-owned solar farm.

NNSL photo/graphic

Among the participants in an Aug. 21 field trip in Lutsel K'e as part of a feasibility study on solar energy potential in the community were Ron Fatt, left, a councillor with Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, Sub-Chief Emily Saunders of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, Sudhir Jha, manager of community infrastructure planning with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Linda Todd, program co-ordinator with Arctic Energy Alliance, Graeme Drew, the senior administrative officer/band manager of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, and Wade Carpenter, an alternative energy specialist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. - photo courtesy of MACA

If built, it would be a large solar-power project for the NWT. The project would also have a unique ownership structure, along with being good for the environment by reducing diesel use.

"It's a clustering of all the panels in one area. Then it gets channeled out to your various buildings. As well, the surplus can be fed back into the grid," said Graeme Drew, the senior administrative officer and band manager with Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation (LKDFN), the community government in Lutsel K'e.

That is the preferred and most likely option, but a feasibility study is also considering placing solar panels on specific buildings.

Drew said people are excited about the idea of a solar farm.

"If it goes ahead the way we're planning, it would be the first community-owned alternative power plant, and precedent-setting in nature," he said, adding people are also impressed by the proposed 35-kilowatt size for an NWT community. "The combination of those elements, I think, is what's getting some people quite excited about the initiative."

One of those people is Sudhir Jha, manager of community infrastructure planning with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

"Solar installations are favourable for deployment in remote communities because they require less maintenance compared to other renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines," he said.

Jha anticipates the project will get a final green light from chief and council this month, which means the project would proceed to construction following completion of the current feasibility work. That work is being done to determine the optimum location and the technical specifications of the solar farm.

Jha added if everything goes well, the next step is to commence site preparation next spring. This will be followed by construction and an anticipated start date in late summer of 2014.

Jha, along with representatives of Arctic Energy Alliance and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), helped assess potential sites for a solar energy system in Lutsel K'e during a visit on Aug. 21.

"I think it's a great idea," said Wade Carpenter, an alternative energy specialist with ENR, who was part of the visiting delegation.

In 2012, the territorial government released a Solar Energy Strategy for the NWT which set a goal of deploying systems sized up to 20 per cent of the average load in diesel communities. In Lutsel K'e, that means installing a maximum of 35 kilowatts of solar power. On a sunny day, 35 kilowatts of solar capacity could power up to five community buildings.

"You get your best savings from solar when you're offsetting diesel in communities such as Lutsel K'e," Carpenter said, adding that smaller systems on individual buildings produce about five kilowatts of power.

There is only one existing solar farm in the NWT, owned by the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC), located at the Fort Simpson airport.

ENR has committed $50,000 towards the planning and engineering of the Lutsel K'e project this fiscal year.

Carpenter said that solar power systems are increasing in popularity and can produce eight months of usable solar power in the NWT. The technology is simple, there are no moving parts, and operation and maintenance are low cost.

"I think it's a great opportunity for the community," said Linda Todd, program co-ordinator with Arctic Energy Alliance, adding that background work is now being done to give the community information necessary to make decisions.

Todd, who also visited Lutsel K'e on Aug. 21, is optimistic about the potential for the proposed project.

"I think it will be really good," she said. "It's an exciting kind of project."

Todd said one option is the power could be sold to the NTPC, which would then distribute it to the community.

"At this point, it's hard to know which is the way to go and there may be other options, as well," she said.

Drew, who started working with LKDFN late last year, said one of his first tasks was to put together strategic priorities that focus on the band's higher power expenses, especially the "energy hogs," such as the arena, three-bay garage and community hall.

"Obviously, energy was a big cost," he said. "So we took a look at that and we looked at alternative energy."

When a study was commissioned by the Tlicho Government to review alternative energy options for its communities, Lutsel K'e was included, Drew said, adding the territorial government shared the findings of that report with him a couple of months ago.

"In the case of Lutsel K'e and the other communities, it concluded that the only viable source is going to be what they call hybrid power," he said, referring to the report. Hybrid power is a combination of power sources, such as diesel, solar, wind, or water, and the storage of power.

Drew said the chief and council of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation are very supportive of the solar power initiative, and he'll be reporting at the next council meeting on Sept. 17 and 18.

At that time, it is expected that a band council resolution will recommend a final go-ahead for the project.

If a final go-ahead is given, Drew said $200,000-$250,000 in territorial and federal government funding will be sought for construction and installation of the solar power project.

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