First Nation Charts Brighter Course with 160-Panel Solar Facility

Already invested in wind, solar and food security, North Shore band is increasing its ‘energy sovereignty.’

CONTRIBUTED/TSLEIL-WAUTUTH NATION SACRED TRUST Charlene Aleck, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust and an elected Councillor for the First Nation, stands in front of a solar energy array installed last year in the North Shore community directly across the Burrard Inlet from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline terminal.

By: David P. Ball

The sun is about to rise on one local First Nation’s renewable-energy ambitions thanks to a planned 160-panel solar power array it plans to install on a new government and health building under construction.

“It’s been on our minds for quite a while to look at the energy we use,” explained Charlene Aleck, manager of Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust.

“This isn’t new: We’ve been trying to be progressive and innovative for a long time, and wanted to look at different sources of energy and to invest in wind and solar. There are so many possible options for us.”

As Aleck tells it, her community took an environmental stand long before it became one of the foremost opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which was approved by the provincial government in January.

The small reserve sits directly across the Burrard Inlet from that pipeline’s terminal, which will see oil tanker traffic increase seven-fold past their traditional territories.

“In our opposition, we’ve been looked upon as the ‘forces of no’ or the ‘face of opposition,’” Aleck explained. “It makes us look anti-development — but that could not be further from the truth.

“All these initiatives – which we’ve had for years before the pipeline expansion proposal — amp up to our ‘yes’ agenda.”

The First Nation already powers its daycare with a rotating solar array that efficiently follows the sun — a donation from the environmental organizations Greenpeace and last year. The nation is also a business partner in a Burnaby wind turbine manufacturer, has members involved in selling large-scale LED lighting, and is increasingly harvesting local food from community gardens.

She said they also reintroduced elk into their area, rehabilitated local salmon streams and have been trying in these ways to “pay respect back to our land.”

Now, she said the band is in the final stages of significantly ramping up its nascent solar capacity — with the construction of a large new building to house its health clinic, several band-owned businesses and its government and administration.

The building’s construction is currently underway — Aleck inspected the facility earlier this week — and with it, plans to install 47 kilowatt-hours of solar power generation.

The new project, set for completing this fall, has the support of a fundraising campaign started by the Great Climate Race, which began as an environmental run but is about to release a smartphone app to continue raising money for Tsleil-Waututh and one other solar project through people’s regular exercise routines.

The initiative raised roughly $15,000 towards the project, but the whole initiative will likely cost between $100,000 to $150,000, said Great Climate Race co-founder Ben West.

“Tsleil-Waututh has been very eager to tell the story that this is not a community that’s simply opposed to everything,” West said. “They’re really committed to creating good jobs and articulating a different way to move forward.

“To me what’s interesting is the story this tells about this turning-point moment we’re at in address climate change — there’s such increased awareness about what solutions are.”

West said that the kilowatt hours — which would make it one of the largest solar facilities in the Lower Mainland, second to the state-of-the-art new Telus Gardens building — are only part of the story. The other is showing that renewable energy is realistic today.

“A lot of people think the solutions are far off in the future,” he said. “But we actually have all the technology we need, it’s cost effective, and we could be well on our way to transitioning.

“This project will play a role in helping demonstrate what’s possible right now.”

According to Aleck, the nation may not even stop at 160 panels, either, and said one day she hopes much of the reserve’s power can come from renewable sources.

“I believe it’s all connected,” she said. “One good move can affect another.

“Having sovereign energy power would be a good thing. We have quite a few panels lined up, but there’s room to grow.”

It will cost a minimum of $100,000 to purchase and install all 160 solar power panels on Tsleil-Waututh’s new health and administration building, to be completed this fall.


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