The Montana Band in Maskwacis has stepped into the world of solar energy in a big way and planners want to bring the project to as many First Nations communities as possible.
What started out as an economic development project has turned into a full-fledged business opportunity spearheaded by Barry Wheaton, the CEO of the Green Arrow, the company owned by the Montana Band.
Wheaton said they were already developing a micro-generator project to reduce electricity costs on the Montana administrative building. Because of the research needed to get things up and running, Wheaton said they already had a strong working knowledge of the project that they could develop their own business.
“The potential for green and renewable energy far exceeds that of oil sands,” said Wheaton of the inspiration to get things moving.
The other benefit of starting the project is working with a large labour pool on First Nations communities. Wheaton expects to eventually train and work with 12 employees who will have specific skills in solar panel installations.
His goal is to reduce the overall coal and natural gas dependency as he says solar power is the cleanest of the three.
The Montana Band already has panels on its administrative building that have offset the cost by approximately 45 per cent each month. Wheaton said on a hot sunny day, the entire building is off the grid.
A new project they are considering is a one megawatt solar farm estimated at $4.5 million to eventually reduce electricity consumption on the reserve and if possible, to be able to sell it back to the reserve.
Wheaton said he also intends to work with other First Nations communities to train staff, develop their own solar power projects and use its buying power to reduce the overall cost of the solar panels.
He says the biggest challenge creating enough power is to have enough roof space on a building to install the panels. Depending on the size of panels and usage, a user can look to offset their costs and bring down a big portion of their power bill.
Currently Green Arrow has four regular employees to help with the installation and development of new solar power projects.
Wheaton said another benefit of the project is that solar energy fits in well with First Nations principals of caring for the earth. “Typically they have been stewards of the land,” he explained.