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Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan and Cold Lake First Nation Chief Bernice Marshall talk with reporters during news conference recently.

First Nation in heart of oil country
makes the switch to solar power

Project installs $250K worth of solar panels at
Cold Lake FN as it recovers from 2013 oil spill

Sitting on the second-largest deposit of oil sands in Canada, the economy of the Cold Lake First Nation relies heavily on the natural resource industry.

But in a project announced recently, the First Nation said it will be making a significant investment in a greener source of power.

Cold Lake First Nation, about 225 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, earns good profits annually through its main company, Primco Dene, which provides camp catering, janitorial, EMS and security services in northeast Alberta.

The wealthy community of almost 2,500 receives less than 30 per cent of its community funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Ironically, amid the financial prosperity, CLFN is still dealing with the effects of a devastating Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. oil spill on their territory in 2013 that resulted in the deaths of birds and animals.

However, it's the threat of climate change that has spurred leadership to start to change their focus from solely oil- generated revenue to exploring greener alternatives.

Chief Bernice Marshall says elders advised council to make the shift after noticing changes happening in the land and water systems.

"[After the spill] our elders were talking to us, they want us to slow down on what we're doing and try to find other ways of creating sources of revenue," Marshall said.  

"Climate change threatens our lands, water, fish, plants and ultimately our entire livelihood, and we must all come together to solve the problem."

Solar panels coming

Cold Lake First Nation announced Monday it will install solar panels on five of its buildings this fall with help from a grant through the Alberta government's Indigenous solar program. The government is providing $200,000 while the First Nation is contributing $50,000.

"Cold Lake First Nation is proud to begin a journey towards a lower-carbon economy in partnership with the province. All levels of government have a duty to protect the lands under the treaty," Marshall said.

The solar project is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,305 tonnes, and help the community save nearly $150,000 on utility bills over a span of 25 years.

"Another big reason to go solar is to cut costs on power," Marshall said. "We want to look at the difference between this year and next year in the price of electricity." 



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