Studies have linked oil production from Alberta’s tar sands to devastating impacts on both the environment and the wellbeing of local aboriginal communities. Contamination has rendered the local wildlife, land, and water unfit for consumption, thus forcing communities to increase consumption of store-bought foods. Exposure to toxic chemicals in oil sands development is also blamed for increasing cancer occurrences. These impacts are particularly strong in the Lubicon Cree community; in 2011, one of the largest oil spills in Alberta’s history dumped 28,000 barrels of crude oil into Little Buffalo. The oil companies have reportedly taken $14 billion in resources from the Lubicon Cree’s traditional territory and funneled the royalties to the Alberta government.
However, the community is fighting back with the Piitapan Solar Project. In a conversation with VICE News, Lubicon Cree First Nation and Greenpeace member Melina Laboucan-Massimo described the project as “one of the biggest solar installations in northern Alberta, especially in the tar sands.” The 80 solar panels serve as a highly visible beacon of hope for a return to self-sufficiency and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. The solar project will power First Nation’s new health center and excess energy will be fed into the power grid. The construction team also plans to host educational workshops on renewable energy at schools.
The community-owned and operated Piitapan Solar Project was created without a cent of government funding—Laboucan-Massimo says there is very limited funding for renewable energy projects in Alberta and in Canada. Instead, they received fundraising help from Laboucan-Massimo’s partner company W Dusk Energy, a BullFrog Power grant, and donations from Jane Fonda and the Honor the Earth Foundation. They also received in-kind support and donations from Canadian Energy, CanSIA, ELSE, Fronius, Kuby Renewable Energy and Greenpeace Canada. Melina Laboucan-Massimo told Vice: “I hope that by having projects like this, in the northern part of Alberta, that the Alberta government will take note of it, seeing that communities are going ahead without them, that communities really want to see this, and that they’re willing to put their support and money into this.”
Via VICE News
Images via Melina Laboucan-Massimo