The community of Ile-a-la-Crosse is getting into solar power and hoping to inspire their youth along the way.
High school students finished off their school year last month by installing solar panels. The panels will power the school's greenhouse and were provided by W Dusk Energy, an Indigenous energy company from B.C.
"It was a great opportunity to learn about new power, new electricity resources and so on. It was a great learning experience and maybe open new doors to more students for career opportunities," said Landon Ahenakew, one of the students who worked on the project.
Mayor Duane Favel said the project is exciting as they have been trying to bring solar power infrastructure to the community for the past five years.
"We have a pretty unreliable grid and every time there's a storm or we had power surges or power outages, it's pretty disruptive," Favel said. "We need to find alternative ways of power in our community."
The Ile-a-la Crosse school division applied for funding on the project through the provincial government, which had a fund of $10 million for schools in the province to explore alternative energy. In total, the project cost about $120,000, Favel said.
Favel said the need for self-sufficiency has especially become apparent with the current heat wave in Saskatchewan, and the heat waves and droughts in British Columbia and across the world. Even though this project is relatively small — with 120 panels of 440 watt each — it's a learning experience and helps the students, he said.
"I think it's important for students to be able to see and engage with these things," Favel said.
He hopes the students take a keen interest in solar power and see the bigger plan for the community. It's just one of the ways the community is trying to diversify and become more self-sufficient, he said.
The community has spent the last five years working on growing gardens, greenhouses and regrowth tunnels to help food sovereignty, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the increased need for self-sufficiency, Favel said.
"The food insecurity in northern Saskatchewan, I think, is always a threat," Favel said. "We're starting to think about, you know, growing our own food, you know, and offsetting it."
Historically, families in the community had gardens and understood the concepts but that's disappeared with time, he said. So by introducing it with backyard gardens and a horticulture class, he hopes people once again can recognize those medicinal plants and more.