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New micro grid now producing clean solar power for northwest community

In northwestern Ontario, OPG and the Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (KZA), also known as Gull Bay First Nation, recently celebrated the completion of a new micro grid that will help reduce the remote community’s dependence on diesel generation.

Solar panels comprising part of the Gull Bay First Nation micro grid
The ground-breaking Giizis Energy Solar Storage Micro Grid at Gull Bay First Nation in northwest Ontario.

As the first fully integrated solar and storage micro grid built on-reserve, this project is the first of its kind in Canada. The ground-breaking, Indigenous-led facility, officially called the Giizis Energy Solar Storage Micro Grid, went online this summer and has been generating clean, renewable power for the community.

Co-developed by OPG and KZA, the micro grid utilizes solar panels, lithium-ion batteries for storage, and automated control technology to help the community reduce its diesel use by approximately 130,000 litres per year, or 30 per cent of its current consumption.

Located on the western shore of Lake Nipigon two hours north of Thunder Bay, KZA has an on-reserve population of about 375 people who currently rely on diesel generators to provide all of their electricity. It is one of four remote First Nation communities that the Independent Electricity System Operator has determined cannot currently be connected economically to the provincial grid.

“In the last few weeks as we went into full operations, we have already reduced over 12,000 litres of diesel with clean, renewable solar power,” said KZA Chief Wilfred King. “The impact of this project is significant, including community-centred economic development and jobs, infrastructure improvement, and a stronger, healthier community.”

As part of the micro grid, 1,020 solar photovoltaic panels rated at 360-kW DC were installed in an area the size of a soccer field, along with 81 battery modules rated at 300 kW / 555 kWh of electricity storage used to store excess solar power.

A sophisticated micro grid controller integrates the clean, renewable energy from the solar panels and the battery storage with the existing diesel distribution system. The controller will balance generation and energy storage to reduce diesel generator use in the community, shutting diesel off entirely at times. This will eliminate more than 400 tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

KZA and Canadian flag flying over micro grid project sign.
OPG co-developed a renewable energy-storage micro grid with the Gull Bay First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

OPG, along with the support of various technical firms, acted as the development partner for the micro grid, which is expected to have a service life of 20 years. The company coordinated government funding, managed procurement and construction, and provided some capital investment. OPG will have access to data from the micro grid, which will provide useful “proof of use” information for future micro grid deployments.

With the micro grid up and running, KZA’s development corporation, Ma’iingan Development Inc., will own and operate the facility, receiving all revenues in the process. It’s the first stepping stone towards KZA’s long-term vision for renewable energy.

“By working together with KZA, OPG has developed a micro grid that is the first step towards a long-term energy supply solution that is both reliable and environmentally sustainable,” said Paul Giardetti, OPG’s Vice-President of Northwest Operations.

Along with a number of northern hydro developments and the Nanticoke solar facility, the Gull Bay micro grid collaboration is OPG’s fifth development project with an Indigenous community.