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IBEW Local 402 Wires Remote Energy Storage Micro-Grid for Gull Bay Indigenous Community

December 13, 2019
Gull Bay Solar Microgrid

The Giizis Energy Solar Storage Micro Grid in Gull Bay, northern Ontario.

Image credit: Ontario Power Generation.
Gull Bay (also known as Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek) has become the first remote community in Canada to have its own renewable energy supply. A team of IBEW Local 402 electricians was brought in to handle the complex wiring requirements for the project.

Located 200km north of Thunder Bay, Gull Bay is so remote that there is no hydro service. The Ojibway community of 300 have been relying on diesel generators, which are noisy and dependent on fossil fuels.

As of early August, however, Gull Bay has had its own solar power generation and battery storage system. In the summer, when the area can get 14 hours of sunlight, Gull Bay doesn’t need to use the diesel generators at all. About 25% of its total yearly power supply is now generated on-site, saving about 130,000 litres of diesel.

“We’re glad to be part of a project that powers a community,” says IBEW Local 402 business manager Glen Drewes. “There are lots of solar farms up here, but most of them sell electricity to the grid. This project is different because the power is used right where it’s generated and helps the community be more independent. It’s also better for the environment.”

The $8 million project includes 1,000 ground-mounted solar panels on helical piles. The nearby electrical building contains the micro-grid controller, breaker, and 15 inverters. Eighty lithium-ion storage batteries are housed nearby, along with the computer that controls them. The system is integrated with the pre-existing power distribution grid.

Officially named Giizis Energy Solar Storage Micro Grid, the installation generates 360 kilowatts when the sun is at full strength in the summer.

The Ontario Power Generation (OPG) project, a cooperative effort with the Gull Bay community, was a new initiative intended to be the first step in a positive new direction. In the 1940s, OPG dams on the Nipigon River caused flooding of community lands, resulting in the desecration of gravesites and the loss of shoreline. After a financial settlement was reached and an apology delivered, OPG offered to partner with the community on a new project. A solar project was suggested, especially because Gull Bay is one of four communities that were found to be too remote to hook up to the power grid.

In 2018, the project broke ground with Alltrade Industrial as the contractor, and Tony Murphy as foreman. Local 402 journeymen Micheal Boland and Rob Stockla wired the project with the help of Local 402 apprentices Ben Carr (1st year) and Cliff Nord (4th year).

They also got the opportunity to work with a member of the Gull Bay community.

“When working on reserves, there are special rules that ensure members of the community get employment,” said Drewes. “So we hired one member as a groundman assistant. When we work on projects like these, it’s our hope that indigenous people will enjoy this exposure and become interested in becoming an electrician.”

Local 402 is hard at work on a number of power generation projects in the Thunder Bay area, including White Dog Power Dam, Manitou Falls, and Nipigon Falls.

Commented Drewes, “Those projects will be going on for a year or two. OPG have been upgrading all their water-based power gen to create vast improvements.”

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