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Charge Solar completes 220-KW project on B.C.'s remote Gilford Island

Solar power installation expected to offset 73,000 litres of diesel fuel per year

IMAGE: KFHN community on Gilford Island
An aerial view of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation community on Gilford Island. (Courtesy Charge Solar)

Victoria-based renewable energy solutions provider Charge Solar has completed a 220-kilowatt Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation (KHFN) solar project at the remote community of Gilford Island in B.C.

It is comprised of 12 residential photovoltaic systems, five systems on community-owned buildings, a custom cliff-mounted system and a 40-foot Sea-Can mounted with solar modules. The Sea-Can houses a 1.1-megawatt-hour battery energy storage system to power the community in times of insufficient sunlight.

“We were brought in by a local installer called Discovery Diesel, and they were managing the diesel generators for this community. Like a lot of remote communities, they're bringing diesel in by barge or by bringing a ship, which is burning diesel to bring diesel to a local site,” Jeff MacAulay, Charge Solar’s CEO, told SustainableBiz.

“As you can imagine, with the increase in fuel costs and the increased attention on environmental topics, and sustainability and carbon emissions, burning diesel in these remote communities is increasingly expensive and harmful for the environment. It also has negative implications to community members.”

According to the company, the installation offsets 73,000 litres of diesel consumption per year.

Charge Solar was formerly known as HES PV Ltd., before rebranding in March 2022. Aside from its headquarters it has offices in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Barrie, Montreal and Halifax.

The company offers engineering and marketing services, as well as some of its own products, but typically relies on third-party installers to complete the work.

Charge Solar’s KHFN solar project

Charge Solar began with a site visit to the island in 2020. KHFN has its own diesel microgrid which provides power to 26 homes and 12 community buildings through a 14-kilovolt overhead distribution system. The goal was to add solar photovoltaics and energy storage systems to the existing microgrid to reduce the dependence on diesel.

“We were initially included simply to do a feasibility analysis . . . and then they selected their partner of choice, which, again, is Discovery Diesel,” MacAulay explained. “But they really needed help from someone that had a lot more experience in solar and so that's why we were brought in.”

The project was funded by Coast Funds and Natural Resources Canada.

The company works with over 1,500 installers nationally, but because of the unique features of this installation Charge Solar was much more involved than normal, which MacAulay called “extremely rare.”

Given its remote location, the Gilford Island project posed several logistical challenges. Getting a crane to the island to unload the equipment was complicated by weather conditions.

“There's no regular ferry to this community. And there's certainly no vehicle traffic going back and forth. And so quite often, solar panels were being brought over by hand in small boats and that for us, for a project of this size, is exceedingly rare,” MacAulay said.

"When you get to fall or winter, of course, you can just sometimes have two weeks where you could never even get the crane to the site and have weather that's calm enough to lift the battery off onto the site. So we really had to work with the community.”

It required about six trips to the island to complete the project.

Training also had to be provided for KHFN community members who participated in the installation process, including fall arrest procedures, hands-on solar installation training and system design fundamentals.

“It's a win-win scenario, because . . . you're creating new skills, and it creates a sense of ownership as well. Logistically, it's just most convenient to have those that are closest to it and be able to repair (and) maintain the systems themselves.”

KHFN is considering an eco-tourism project in the community, a venture which will be aided by the solar installation.

Charge Solar’s future projects 

With the announcement of a 15 per cent clean electricity federal tax credit, and $140 million in government funding available for Indigenous projects in B.C., the company anticipates further growth in this sector in 2024.

“We expect that there's a number of other communities like this around British Columbia, but as well as just generally in Canada,” MacAulay said.

“(It) doesn't have to be coastal, it doesn't have to be right next to the water, but simply non-integrated or non-grid-connected communities, there is a vast opportunity for those communities, as well as the Government of Canada to address the amount of diesel that's being burned.”

He said Charge Solar is currently in the quoting and design stages for several similar projects, as well as a number of “grid-type” projects.

He said he expects an additional announcement later this year on a collaboration with a First Nations group in Ontario, where Charge Solar has converted some of the agricultural land to be used for solar technology.

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