ALL THE ELECTRICITY METERS SEEM “WONKY”. It often happens to every one of them on 40 houses in the T’Sou-ke village of 250 people at the tip of Vancouver Island. But they aren’t wonky. They are just running backwards—exactly how a village vision project hoped they would.
The meters run backwards when they are no longer measuring energy consumption. They run backwards when they are measuring energy generation from the solar panels on the buildings—energy which the nation can sell back to B.C. Hydro.
As self-sufficient as possible
The 75 kilowatt solar panel project is just one part of a sustainability project begun by the nation in 2007. Though tiny by world standards, the project is the largest of its kind in British Columbia. It’s being held up as a model for First Nations across the province, particularly those that are off grid and reliant upon diesel generators for electricity.
In February, 2007, the T’Sou-ke band hired Andrew Moore as solar project director. He initiated visioning sessions with community members.
“What we came to was an understanding that we need to become as self-sufficient as possible, as autonomous as possible… in food, energy and culture,” says Moore. “This project is just one piece of it.”
Since then, T’Sou-ke has also put a solar hot-water heating program in place for residences, put systems on the roofs of 40 houses, installed a solar-powered electric charging point for vehicles in front of the administration office, owns an electric car that community members can use and has carried out a comprehensive energy conservation program.
How T’sou-ke solar project works
The T’Sou-ke solar project is actually a suite of solar options for producing hot water and electricity.
The solar hot water component includes systems on private residences that, in the summertime, can produce all of a family’s hot water needs.
The solar electricity component consists of three models: a 6 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the bands’ fisheries office, a 7 kilowatt system for emergency battery back-up in case of a hydro outage and a 62 kilowatt array atop the band’s canoe shed, generating energy which is available to the community or for sale to BC Hydro.
The band chased down funding from 15 different governmental and non-profit sources to fund the $1.5 million solar project.
Building the team
T’Sou-ke member and experienced logging crew boss Rick Underwood came onboard to be the project “go-to guy” and help ensure all of the photovoltaic systems were completed on time. In one month, March, 2009, all the panels were installed.
“Crap, yeah, I feel pretty proud,” says Underwood. “This is it, it’s done, it’s a finished product. Now it’s the showcase, and the whole idea of being able to help off-grid reserves show them what can be done.”
The band also used the project for skills training. “We learned by doing,” says Angie Bristol, 28, who completed the training program along with eight other band members. “They took a group to each house and would teach us on an actual system.”
As the community progressed to the solar hot water heating project and the energy conservation project, the same community members remained involved, and others joined in the work too.
Conservation also key
Local artist Mark Gauti helped spearhead the T’Sou-ke Nation Smart Energy Group (T’SEG) to promote energy conservation.
“We’re creating all this energy with our panels, but if people just started using it all up… what’s the point?” he asks. “They are quite expensive to install, so once we install them, we realize just how precious the energy created really is.”
T’Sou-ke is also making money from its solar panels. A program of robust energy conservation measures means the panels actually generate more electricity than the administration buildings need.
T’Sou-ke is connected to the electricity grid, which allows it to sell electricity to BC Hydro and buy it back when they need it.
T’Sou-ke isn’t finished yet. T’Sou-ke is also actively pursuing other forms of renewable energy. It has partnered with Accumulated Ocean Energy Inc. to explore the possibilities of ocean wave energy production and is also exploring the possibility of a kite energy demonstration project.
Another sustainable initiative includes a successful wasabi greenhouse project, that grows wasabi for commercial sale.
“We keep being told that the answer to our problems is an amazing new technology, and we keep looking somewhere else for the answer, when it’s in our hands the whole time,” says Andrew Moore.
“Talk about getting your power back!” This is power to the people—literally and metaphorically.”
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