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Gym powered by sun
Solar array installed on Nahanni Butte gymnasium

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 24, 2011

TTHENAAGO/NAHANNI BUTTE - Nahanni Butte's gymnasium has gone solar.

NNSL photo/graphic

Project manager David Overall stands in front of the five kilowatt solar panel array recently installed on the roof of the Nahanni Butte gymnasium. - photo courtesy of David Overall

The installation of a five kilowatt solar panel array was completed on the gymnasium's roof Feb. 16. The array represents close to a year's worth of work by David Overall.

"It's been a long process but definitely worth it," Overall said.

Overall, who's a Beaver volunteer at Charles Yohin School, was looking for a way to make a tangible contribution to the community that's been his home for the past two years.

"I've always been interested in sustainable energy," he said.

With the support of the chief and band council, Overall submitted a proposal to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Alternative Energy Technologies Program. He received $50,000, the maximum amount available under the Community Renewable Energy Fund portion of the program.

Following the fund's guidelines, Overall matched the amount by volunteering as the project manager and through contributions from the band. The combined $100,000 paid for the array and its installation by Ventek Enterprises from Yellowknife.

The array should produce enough energy to power the gym during the summer months if energy discipline is followed, Overall said. During the winter the gym will still need to get a portion of its energy from the community's electricity grid.

Overall estimates during its 25-year lifespan the array will save the community approximately $400,000.

The array is on the roof of the building where it is out of sight. The location is free of obstructions and allows the panels to get the most sunlight possible.

"It's almost a self-sufficient system," he said.

The only maintenance required includes keeping the array free of snow and cleaning dust off of the panels a few times a year. A console in the gym shows how much power the array is generating at any given time and also how much power it's created to date.

"It gives it an interactive aspect," Overall said.

The console will feature in the series of seminars on climate change, energy conservation and alternative energy sources Overall will be teaching in the community as part of his fund-matching agreement with the territorial government.

The Alternative Energy Technologies Program offers in-kind contributions because communities might not have the money to spend on alternative energy sources, said Wade Carpenter, an alternative energy specialist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The program began in 2007 to promote renewable energy sources in the territory and reduce fuel costs, Carpenter said. It has supported 62 applicants to date.

The program is divided into three sections including the Small Renewable Energy Fund where homeowners and cabin owners can get one-third off the cost of an alternative energy system up to $5,000.

The Medium Renewable Energy Fund, which funds one-third of the price of equipment up to $15,000, is for businesses, primarily off the grid such as lodges.

The program has been growing in popularity and all of the available $200,000 was awarded for the first time this fiscal year, Carpenter said. A new funding period will begin on April 1.

The cost of solar panels is dropping. Eventually they will be so cost-effective communities might not need grants to purchase them, Carpenter said. A net billing project is also in the works.

Beginning this year when a building isn't using all of the alternative sourced power its generating, the excess will be fed back into the electricity grid. The local utility provider will monitor the amount and credit the building's account four times a year.

Carpenter congratulated Nahanni Butte on the project.

"They seem like a very progressive community in so far as working towards renewable energy," he said.

Overall said that he hopes other communities in the Deh Cho will follow Nahanni Butte's example.

"There's so much opportunity here especially for the remote communities to benefit from this," he said.

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