First Nations Bring Solar Energy to Affordable Housing

Three First Nations in the Columbia Basin are increasing renewable energy generation and sustainability of their affordable rental housing by adding solar panels. This improves energy efficiency while creating sustainable, comfortable and affordable housing for members. The projects are receiving support from Columbia Basin Trust and the New Relationship Trust.

“For several years, the Trust has been working with First Nations in the region to support their efforts to increase the availability and quality of affordable rental housing for community members,” said Mark Brunton, Senior Manager, Delivery of Benefits, Columbia Basin Trust. “By adding solar panels they will now be able to generate their own renewable energy and lower utility bills through net metering.”

“The New Relationship Trust is proud to partner with Columbia Basin Trust to fund solar projects in First Nation communities that support energy sovereignty,” said Walter Schneider, CEO of the New Relationship Trust, which provides funding programs for First Nation communities in BC. “We believe these innovative partnerships empower nation-building opportunities in First Nation communities in BC.”

Combined, the solar panels in these three communities will generate approximately 200,000 kilowatt-hours per year, which will power about 31 homes.

The Trust launched in-depth support for First Nations affordable housing in 2017, after discussions with First Nations in the Basin. Since then, First Nations have built or are developing over 80 affordable rental units and have completed assessments, energy retrofits and health and safety enhancements to over 200 additional homes in their communities. In addition, the First Nations are working together to enhance their asset management processes and capacity supported by the Trust, BC Housing and Indigenous Services Canada.

Learn more about the Trust’s work to support First Nations housing at ourtrust.org/firstnationshousing.

The New Relationship Trust is an independent organization established by the New Relationship Trust Act (2006). It is dedicated to delivering grant programs to First Nations throughout BC and working with governments and organizations to leverage funding sources that build First Nation capacity toward self-determination and improved environmental, governmental, social and economic outcomes. Learn more at newrelationshiptrust.ca.

The Trust is providing $483,000 for solar panels, fibre and training, and the New Relationship Trust is providing $126,000 for solar panels for the following three projects:

Kenpésq̓t 

Kenpésq̓t (Shuswap Indian Band) is adding solar panels to the 13 affordable rental homes it created in 2020 and 2021: eight one-bedroom and five larger family homes.

“The solar panels will be good for the environment and reduce energy costs to our tiny homes and five new modular homes,” said Dolores Nicholas, Housing Manager.

Yaqan NuɁkiy

Yaqan NuɁkiy (Lower Kootenay Band) is adding solar panels to six units—two small homes that were built in 2020/21 and four that are starting construction this year—plus bringing fibre optic cable to the four new units under construction, enabling them to join a high-speed Internet network in the future. They will also train, mentor and employ local First Nations members to install the solar panels and fibre optic cable, creating two meaningful training opportunities to increase knowledge and experience.

“The installation of these solar panels for the new highly efficient small homes will not only provide training opportunities for Lower Kootenay Band members but will also allow these small homes to generate their own renewable energy,” said Debbie Edge-Partington, Housing Coordinator. “Many houses at LKB are poorly insulated and energy-inefficient so having six new net-zero homes will have a big impact on energy bills.”

Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it

Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it (Tobacco Plains Indian Band) is adding solar panels to 12 units built since 2018: a fourplex, a triplex, one duplex, one modular home and two mini homes. This project will also aim to train, mentor and employ local First Nations members to install the solar panels, creating meaningful training opportunities to increase knowledge and experience.

“Affordable housing is always a top priority for the ʔakanuxunik̓ (the people) of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it (Tobacco Plains Indian Band),” said Nasuʔkin Heidi Gravelle. “The addition of these solar panels to our 12 rental units will assist our membership in accessing more affordable power. Currently there are consistent issues with power outages; having the solar panels will allow for less dependency on grid power. This project will also engage and recruit membership as there will be three training opportunities for them to learn and gain knowledge in solar energy systems. Alignment with the community's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing usage of green energy is an added bonus. We are excited for all the benefits this project will bring to Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it.”

Since 2002, the Trust has helped 30 Basin communities develop, build, upgrade or repair over 3,500 housing units. This has occurred through initiatives with First Nations, local housing organizations, developers, federal and provincial governments, and Basin colleges. Learn more at ourtrust.org/housing.

Columbia Basin Trust supports the ideas and efforts of the people in the Columbia Basin. To learn more about the Trust’s programs and initiatives, and how it helps deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the Basin, visit ourtrust.org or call 1.800.505.8998.