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Fully-integrated microgrid at Gull Bay First Nation first of its kind in Canada

June 20, 2018  |  Article
Gull Bay

The residents of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (KZA) / Gull Bay First Nation, north of Thunder Bay, have every reason to be proud. Before the snow flies in 2018, the community will be home to Canada’s first fully-integrated microgrid, using a combination of battery energy storage and solar panels as a clean energy source to replace costly diesel generation.

"The KZA Solar Microgrid project reflects our peoples’ connection with the land and our responsibility as caretakers on behalf of all living things for seven generations. The project is a game changer, as Canada’s first fully-integrated solar energy storage system in a remote community," said Chief Wilfred N. King. "Through KZA’s ownership of the microgrid, we shall replace thousands of litres of dirty diesel fuel with clean solar power. We would be honoured to share our experiences with off-grid Indigenous communities across Canada."

Environmental assessments for the project were completed in October 2017, work to clear the land began in April 2018, and the project is expected to be constructed by the end of 2018.

Today, with advanced technologies, communities like Gull Bay can displace fossil fuel and take steps to ensure they thrive over the long term, both environmentally and economically.
Tabatha Bull, Senior Manager, First Nations and Métis Relations, IESO

How the new microgrid will work

There are 97 on-reserve houses in Gull Bay First Nation, with a population that varies seasonally, ranging from 300 to 800 people. A series of more than 1,000 ground-mounted solar panels, wired to a central microgrid controller and battery energy storage system, will provide clean energy to these homes, circumventing the community’s existing diesel generator at times. When diesel is required, the microgrid’s control system can initiate the process to switch seamlessly back to diesel, with no disruption in the power supply.

Benefits of the project

Gull Bay is one of four remote communities that are not currently economic to connect to the provincial grid, making this project a turning point on many levels. Most importantly, Gull Bay First Nation will benefit environmentally from having access to a cleaner fuel source. It will also assume full ownership of a valuable economic asset. The community foresees the microgrid as being a catalyst for economic development in the form of new social enterprises and new revenue.

"For remote communities, diesel generation used to be the only fuel option," said Tabatha Bull, the IESO’s Senior Manager, First Nations and Métis Relations. "Today, with advanced technologies, communities like Gull Bay can displace fossil fuel and take steps to ensure they thrive over the long term, both environmentally and economically. The IESO looks forward to continuing to support other Indigenous communities with similar aspirations."

Partners in the project

The KZA Solar Micro Grid is a collaborative project of Gull Bay First Nation and Ontario Power Generation, along with other key parties, including the IESO, which helped to fund the project through the Indigenous Community Energy Plan, the Education and Capacity Building program, and the Indigenous Energy Projects Program.

IESO relaunches Indigenous Energy Support Programs

Two of the IESO’s energy support programs have new names. Along with the name changes come enhancements to the programs’ guidelines, application processes and eligibility criteria to reflect the needs and interests of First Nations and Métis. Read more about the new Indigenous Community Energy Plan Program (formerly the Aboriginal Community Energy Plan) and the Indigenous Energy Projects Program  (previously the Energy Partnerships Program).

This Gull Bay project is featured in the IESO’s latest publication, Power Perspectives: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities. This publication describes what the IESO and others are doing to seize the opportunities brought about by change. It is partly an update on what the IESO is already doing to ensure Ontario’s power system functions reliably today and will continue to do so into the future. But in addition to that, it is a look-ahead that illustrates how the sector is responding to the changes on the horizon.

KZA Chief Wilfred N. King addresses the crowd at the proposed microgrid site. Following the launch ceremony, KZA community members take part in a drum circle to open the meal, celebrate the project and give thanks for the day's festivities.