ATCO partners with Three Nations Energy to bring renewable energy to Fort Chipewyan

During four to six weeks every winter, ATCO delivers enough diesel via ice road to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta (Fort Chip) to meet their electricity generation needs for an entire year.

Those few weeks, between January and early March, are the only times the ice road is thick enough to take the weight of fuel delivery trucks. As such, wishing for cold weather wouldn’t be an odd thing to do at that time.

But change is coming. And that change will soon see renewable energy replace approximately 25 per cent of Fort Chip’s diesel use.


New solar projects will lessen reliance on diesel fuel trucked in by ice road


ATCO serves many communities located hundreds of kilometres from the main electrical grid over vast geographic areas in northern Alberta and Canada’s North. These communities have relied on diesel-powered electricity for decades. So, the company started a program to connect remote communities to the power grid. But Fort Chip is one of those places where it’s just not possible to connect to the main electrical grid.


ATCO needed a different approach


Working closely with the local Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort Chipewyan Métis Local 125, ATCO built a 600-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to integrate with the existing diesel generation system. They completed the project and put it into operation in summer 2019.

“What’s really exciting is the close relationship that’s been forged between ATCO and the community,” says Matt Wright, Supervising Engineer, Strategic Projects, Electricity. “As the community grows, shipping a year’s worth of diesel up this ice road to meet the community needs has become more challenging each year.”

During ATCO’s consultations on the original project, an Indigenous owned and operated company (“Three Nations Energy”) expressed interest in building a second solar project. With support from federal and provincial governments, they formed a partnership to design and build a 2,200 kilowatt solar farm with battery energy storage and microgrid control systems. ATCO is currently constructing that second project, which will come on stream at the end of 2020.

The two new solar projects will add 2,800 kilowatts of solar energy to Fort Chip’s energy mix and reduce diesel consumption by roughly 800,000 litres. The initiatives will decrease carbon emissions and reduce the risks associated with transporting diesel to the area by ice road.

Wright notes there are many other mutual benefits for the community and for ATCO. “We’re benefitting by building the infrastructure and gaining more experience with a great new technology project. The community benefits from acquiring access and ownership of the renewable energy generator, as well as improving their quality of life by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”


A history of serving remote communities


ATCO has a strong history of working with Indigenous and remote communities. They’re working with several other Indigenous communities on technical and feasibility studies to help develop, design, and implement similar renewable systems.

“We’re working to find community champions in other areas to form similar relationships to help them with their energy needs,” says Wright.

“A big part of a lot of these projects is a desire by Indigenous communities to build capacity and to learn. Members of Fort Chipewyan community are involved in on-the-job training in the building of the facilities.”

CEPA members, like ATCO, take great pride in the work they do to ensure remote communities have access to safe, reliable energy supply, which enables them to grow and thrive.