“Us installing the panels and having renewable energy at our school and in our community is something that really reflects our values as indigenous people, being stewards of the land,” Sam said.
“It’s not just investing in renewable energy. It’s about investing in our children and our grandchildren and our future generations, and it’s about investing in our environment and taking care of our water and lands and our animals. We think it’s a deeper investment than just a financial one.”
David Isaac, president of W Dusk Energy Group, said the system — installed on the roof of the school’s gym — will initially supply a third of the school’s electricity but is expected to meet half or more of the building’s needs by the end of 2017.
Ample sunshine during summer and light reflection from snow during winter make the Nicola Valley a prime spot for solar energy, said Isaac, adding that the system has a 25-year warranty but is expected to last “well past 50” years.
He believes the project is a way for the community to show that it is “respecting the agreement with nature to be non-extractive and to use what is most abundant” in the area.
“I think in these times of this yo-yoing, fossil-fuel-based economy, First Nations and non-First Nations alike are wanting to embrace direct solutions,” said Isaac, who is of Mi’kmaq descent.
A percentage of the system’s energy-cost savings will go back into a scholarship fund. As well, teachers will use monitoring equipment attached to the system as a scientific learning tool for students.
Mora Scott, spokeswoman for B.C. Hydro, confirmed in an email that the system is the largest community-owned solar panel installation in B.C.
The system falls under the power authority’s Net Metering program, meaning the Lower Nicola Indian Band can supply excess energy to the power grid and receive a credit on future bills. Scott said here are 800 customers in the program, 759 of whom have solar installations providing a combined total of more than four megawatts to the grid.