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Staying Power: Cowessess First Nation Energizes Their Community and The Grid

Cutline - Chief Cadmus Delorme views solar panels and wind turbine. Photo by Tony Quinones

Saskatchewan’s Cowessess First Nation started exploring opportunities in renewable energy more than a decade ago, and today it’s paying off. In 2006, federal funding was available for First Nation communities to conduct wind resource assessments on their lands. Cowessess leadership recognized the opportunity, and partnered with the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) to see if wind energy might be viable on the First Nation. “We secured funding dollars, and installed an anemometer to gather wind data,” says Jessica Nixon, Project Director, Economic Development at Cowessess First Nation. “After a year of collecting data, we discovered that there was enough wind to develop a wind energy project.”

Utilizing more of the natural surroundings while keeping the land clean for future generations is a value Cowessess First Nation strives for.” – Chief Cadmus Delorme

Chief Cadmus Delorme, Photo by Tony Quinones

Wind energy, while renewable, is not a consistent source. Batteries are needed to harness the energy and store it for dispatch when needed by the grid. Cowessess set out to source funding for a wind turbine and the batteries required, and develop a wind energy project. Working with the SRC, Natural Resources Canada and a provincial Go Green Fund, they would spend the next few years developing the project. By late 2010, the idea was approved for funding and the project began in earnest. It would take two more years of planning and procurement, including sourcing batteries from Florida and a turbine from Germany and working with three different funding organizations, to bring the project to life. A Power Purchase Agreement was signed with SaskPower, and McNair Business Development helped stick handle the business requirements as the SRC handled the technical work.

Construction started in August 2012, and the site was fully commissioned on May 10, 2013—seven years after the initial idea. “Cowessess secured a 1 MegaWatt (MW), 20-year power purchase agreement with SaskPower,” says Nixon. “This included five years of research and development as part of our funding requirements.” After the first year, the lithium ion batteries provided that they could successfully store wind power and supply it when needed. By year four, Cowessess, the SRC and McNair began to contemplate what could be next for the project. The First Nation had a 1 MW power agreement, but the turbine was only 800 kW operating at 32% annually, equalling 660 kW per year. That meant there was 340 kW of unused space per year remaining, with 15 years left on the contract. The team decided to look into how they could maximize the contract. The answer was solar energy.

Solar and Wind Energy at Cowessess First Nation. Photo by Saskatchewan Photo

The project team began working in 2017 on how solar energy could be used to fill the remaining space in the power agreement. The idea seemed simple. Integrate wind and solar together, using the successfully installed batteries. The team approached the federal government through Western Economic Diversification for funding and in August 2017, funding was approved. SRC, McNair and Cowessess worked with SaskPower to renegotiate the power agreement, and found a solar energy supplier—Skyfire Energy—to handle installation. “This time, construction was much less complicated, and we were able to train and employ some of our First Nation members for the work,” says Nixon.

The site was fully commissioned on September 28, 2018 and is a remarkable achievement. Cowessess is committed to growing opportunities for the First Nation and its people, and its leadership believes in progress, doing things the right way and pushing limits when needed. This vision that has led them to where they are today, and where they’re headed in the future. “Capturing the sun and wind to store in a battery and eventually put into the grid to flow into homes is amazing,” says Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme. “Our goal is to inspire youth in our community to pursue higher education in science, math and engineering to manage these businesses and opportunities on behalf of Cowessess in the future.”