Xeni Gwet’in is on track to move to solar energy and away from diesel powered generators.
The remote First Nation currently relies on diesel powered generators to provide energy to the band office, health centre and other buildings in the community as the closest BC Hydro grid is located 90 kilometres outside Xeni Gwet’in’s location in Nemiah Valley.
The second phase of a project to provide solar energy is set to start early in 2018, the first having been commissioned in May of 2017. The second phase is scheduled for completion in September of 2018.
When finished, the aim is to connect eight community buildings and 67 homes in the community to the new system.
The goal, said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William, is to eventually end the community’s reliance on generators.
“We still do a lot of traditional activities in the community, on the land and that is the whole reason we have been fighting for Aboriginal rights and title and title land. and we have been protecting Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) from Taseko Mines Limited, so this green energy is part of the whole project to keep our culture, keep our land and environment clean,” said William.
“We considered the salmon and the water while we were doing this.”
The new system uses solar technology and is backed by lithium-ion batteries. Based in the geographic location, the reduction in diesel generation could be as much as 80 per cent, reducing diesel consumption by 143,000 litres per year.
The reduction is worth $150,000 in savings, according to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
“When you deal with generators you are always maintaining generators and you are replacing generators after so many years,” said William. “Eventually if we can set off the generators the cost of that will be down and on top of that we will have clean energy which is environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive.”
Based on the savings, Xeni Gwet’in will be able to pay off the bank loan for the project in five to 10 years, he said.
The $2.4 million project is funded in part by $250,000 in equity funding from B.C.’s First Nations Clean Energy Fund, with federal funding, contributions from the province’s Community Energy Leadership Program and the Remote Community Implementation Program, as well as a bank loan.
The solar technology is leading edge, said project manager George Colgate.
Thanks to the lithium-ion batteries — which will need to be replaced in approximately 15 to 20 years — the system will also be able to carry the energy load of one day of cloudy skies before generators will need to be turned on.
“Three or four years ago, we couln’t try this, because the technology wasn’t at this level,” said Colgate.
While William notes the system will be unlikely to provide enough energy for intensive projects, it will serve a valuable purpose.
“It will still get our people out there and using the land and resources we’ve had prior to contact.”
In the future, William hopes his community will continue on the path to clean energy, by implementing a “mini hydro system” that will pipe water down from the mountain to generate further energy.
With Xeni Gwet’in at the forefront of the Aboriginal title area named during the landmark Supreme Court of Canada title case in 2014, William said the move to cleaner sources of energy is a natural fit.
“There is a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s exciting times.”