Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Métis Crossing facility in Smoky Lake, Alta. is one step closer to financial sustainability following a funding announcement made by the federal government earlier this month.
Nearly $9 million is being invested by the government for the construction, implementation and distribution of a 4.86-megawatt solar power generation project that will be constructed on property located at the facility.
“Part of the story that we share, we share and talk about the past, present and future of the Métis people,’ said Juanita Marois, CEO of Métis Crossing and lead on the solar project.
“So, when we are on the lower end of the site we are talking about how Métis people settled this area in the 1800s, we are now talking about Métis people flourishing in this area in the 2000s.”
Métis Crossing serves as a learning and interpretive centre for Métis people to come and learn and share stories about their culture and heritage. The facility is open to the public and provides this cultural education to all.
“Métis Crossing literally is one of the gems in our tourism offerings and you are going to see more and more from the federal government, but also Travel Alberta and other partners, talk about and promote what is at Métis Crossing,” said Randy Boissonnault, federal minister of Tourism and associate minister of Finance. Boissonnault officially announced the funding.
“If people haven’t been there they really need to check it out. It’s phenomenal.”
According to Marois, the solar project began a few years ago when the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) developed a climate leadership action plan. It began with travelling throughout the province asking citizens what it means to them to take care of the environment, what concerns they had about the state of the environment and where they want it to be in 100 years.
“As part of this climate leadership plan, they have a number of pillars,” explained Marois. “One of them was to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Building on that plan, to start reducing them, we also had to know what our consumption was. So, the Métis Nation of Alberta did energy audits on all of our facilities.”
In total MNA has more than 800 housing units, nine commercial facilities, including the Métis Crossing facility, as well as the provincial head office and regional office.
“As we did that audit, we kind of came to a cumulative total of what our energy consumption is and then we started to work to create a community scale generation project,” she said.
“We now have a 4.78-megawatt solar field, which is about 25 acres of panels, that will be built at Métis Crossing as the Métis Nations’ main cultural site in this province. The energy that is generated at this site will actually offset the electricity consumption of our nations and administration.”
The energy that is created by the solar field will be directly fed into the ATCO utility company’s electricity grid, and then it will feed into the substation in Villeneuve, Alta.
ATCO, which was chosen for the project through an in-depth tendering process, is also looking to hire for a variety of positions for the project, including labourers, and site services including water, washers and trash collection. ATCO will also be looking for equipment rentals to supply temporary power at the site.
Marois said, “We look to energize that project in the late spring of 2023.”
Among the benefits a project of this magnitude will have for the community, include revenues that will allow Métis Crossing to be one step closer to being financially self-sustainable.
“We do not receive ongoing government operational dollars at any level,” said Marois. “So, we have to create a business model where we are generating more than enough revenue to pay all of our employees, to pay our property taxes, and all those sorts of things. So having this solar field on Métis Crossing lands contributes to our financial self-sustainability for sure.”
Métis Crossing is leasing the parcel of land to the MNA. This will allow the facility to receive regular lease payments while the MNA will also receive payments by selling the electricity to ATCO.
“Metis Crossing is the nation’s primary site to communicate our culture and to share that with the world,” she said. “And this is a really important part of our story. We share the past the present and the future and, culturally, it’s just an extremely important location to the Métis Nation.”
Boissonnault, echoed those sentiments and said the government of Canada wants to focus on creating partnerships within communities that offset their carbon footprint as a part of its focus on climate change and “greening the grid.”
“We want to make sure that communities and organizations are greening the electricity grid and that they are able to find sustainable renewable energy solutions for the future,” he said.
“So, when we have partners like, in this case Métis Crossing, that on behalf of Métis Nation of Alberta is going to electrify almost five megawatts of power with a new solar grid that’s going to power everything that Métis Crossing needs, but then by supplying it to the grid, all the Métis Nation of Alberta government buildings are going to come off the grid.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.