Ulkatcho First Nation to house largest off-grid solar project in Canada

Ulkatcho First Nation at Anahim Lake hosted a signing ceremony in their community Friday, April 19 to celebrate a new solar energy project.

Expected to reduce the need for diesel generation in the remote community by about 65 per cent, equal to a reduction of 1.2 million litres of diesel a year, it is anticipated construction will begin August 2024 and be completed by October 2025, said the nation’s chief executive officer Steve James.

“For the construction side – we are doing the earthworks this year – that could put half a dozen or more community members to work,” James said. “When we start the construction of the solar site itself it could be up to 10 or 12 locals.”

Estimated to be the largest off-grid solar project in Canada, the project is moving forward thanks to a combined investment of $15,841,000 from the federal and provincial governments.

Ulkatcho First Nation’s power is currently 100 per cent diesel generated.

James said they started inquiring about the possibility of a solar project four years ago.

They looked at ways to diversify the nation’s revenue because of the way the forest industry was going and they wanted to displace diesel and come up with an alternative solution.

“We looked at wind, water, biomass and solar and solar was the least risk and the best project,” he said.

The community chose an area that once housed a sawmill, which was removed the fall of 2023 and repurposed in Quesnel.

Considered a brown field site, James said the site has been cleaned up well.

“Our vision is to have a new office there, a kiosk, probably an electric vehicle charging station. We’ve done everything right so far and we want to keep continuing to raise the bar,” he added.

During the signing ceremony, which attracted about 150 people, the community also did a ribbon-cutting for its new Canco Gas Station which opened June 2023 and Ulkatcho Mercantile which is almost ready to open fully.

In addition to the Ulkatcho Energy Corporation solar plant, the project will also includes the construction of new access roads and paths, control and monitoring of the new facility, fire management, security, signage, and other related assets.

BC Hydro will buy solar energy through a community electricity purchase agreement and integrate the energy into its microgrid through a line interconnection and battery energy storage system to then serve the community.

James said the community is looking at heat pumps as an alernative and is in discussion with BC Hydro about doing some trials because it can get very cold in the Anahim Lake area and there is uncertainty about how well the heat pumps will work.

Eyeing the future, he noted they have several projects coming down the pike, including working closely with Artemis Gold Inc.

With files from Angie Mindus

READ MORE: Ulkatcho First Nation celebrates new gas station, groundbreaking for new store

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