Gwich’in Wellness Centre solar project: Investment in a sunnier future

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
– Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone (1931); as quoted in Uncommon Friends : Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987) by James Newton, p. 31
With precisely this in mind, WWF-Canada recently invested in a solar energy demonstration project, resulting in the successful installation of a 1.7 kilowatt solar panel array on the Gwich’in Wellness Centre.
Vertical solar array installed at the Wellness Centre included 6- 175 watt panels and 3- 220 watt panels.  The installation is expected to produce 1,300 kilowatt hours per year for the Wellness Centre.  The financial investment payback for the project is estimated to be 8.7 years (c) Matthew Brost, Ventek Enterprises
© Matthew Brost, Ventek Enterprises
The Wellness Centre is located approximately 15 kilometers south of Inuvik on the East Channel of the Mackenzie River.  Like most of the North, it is too remote to be connected to the grid and relies on diesel fueled generators to power its operations.
(c) Gwich'in Tribal Council
Enter alternative energy benefit #1: cost savings associated with the transporting and using expensive fossil fuels.
But a coalition of Aboriginal and environmental groups including Arctic Athabaskan Council, Climate Action Network, Ecology North, Gwich’in Council International and the Pembina Institute, also had another benefit in mind when they initiated the project: mitigating climate change.
In the summer of 2009, they brought together 60 young leaders from across the north to the Young Leaders Summit on Northern Climate Change. The Summit helped raise the profile of climate change amongst Canada’s northern youth and concluded with them issuing a declaration laying out a call for action on northern climate change.
60 young leaders from across the north participated in the Northern Young Leaders Summit on Climate Change.  The solar panel installation at the Wellness Centre was a legacy project from the Summit (c) WWF-Canada
WWF-Canada’s Susan Evans co-lead’s a climate change adaptation session with Ryan Hennessey from Northern Climate Exchange at the Northern Young Leaders Summit on Climate Change, August 2009 (c) WWF-Canada
The solar panel installation was initially envisioned by the Summit organizers as an opportunity to provide participants with a hands-on, solar energy experience.  Unfortunately the installation was delayed and participants were not able to be part of the actual installation, but the Gwich’in Tribal Council, Ecology North and the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources championed the project and brought it through to completion this fall.
The project remains an important legacy of the Summit, as it demonstrates the benefits of using alternative energies such as solar, and how it can be successfully introduced in northern communities.
Of course, the project also reduces the amount of fossil fuel derived energy consumed at the Centre, which directly translate into less GHGs in the atmosphere.
This makes it part of the solution to climate change.  And WWF-Canada believes in putting its money on that!