People applaud during a ceremony celebrating the new Jiig̱awaay Naay Unguu solar project at the Haida Heritage Centre. Some of the 385 panels on the centre can be seen on the centre’s brand-new metal roofs, behind. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Skidegate welcomes The Sun on Top of the House

100 KW project is now the largest community-owned solar installation in B.C.

Sunlight was a hot topic on Haida Gwaii this week, and not only because of the Monday morning eclipse.

Skidegate is now home to the largest community-owned solar project in B.C., with a 100 KW array atop the new metal roofs on the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay.

Haida elders Roy Jones Sr. and and Grace Jones named the project Jiig̱awaay Naay Unguu, which translates as “The Sun on Top of the House.”

Speaking at a noon ceremony on during the Ḵay’s ninth anniversary celebration on Sunday, David Isaac, president of W. Dusk Energy Group, said his team was honoured but a little nervous to work on the building.

“This is really a stronghold for Indigenous communities across Turtle Island,” he said, praising the Haida architecture reflected in the centre, and particularly the work of Arthur Pearson, who milled its huge cedar beams.

“As an Indigenous person who loves to affect the built environment, I’m really inspired by this beam work,” Isaac said.

“You know, culture and tradition isn’t static — it’s something that evolves over time — and I really think this is a perfect marriage between modern and tradition. I think that it’s something all our communities are going to be doing more of.”

Jiig̱awaay Naay Unguu will also include an outdoor solar art piece featuring a painting by local youth, a backlit image of Raven Stealing the Light by Gwaii Edenshaw, and a projected image of the Skidegate crest, all mounted in a collapsed cedar longhouse with its own rooftop solar panels that was designed by Arthur Pearson. And in the Ḵay’s Centre parking lot, there will soon be a Tesla charging station for an electric car — a first on island.

With a 50 KW solar array already installed earlier this year on the George Brown Rec Centre, Skidegate may soon see many more solar installations — Billy Yovanovich, chief councillor of the Skidegate Band Council, said they will have W. Dusk do a feasibility study for installing rooftop solar panels on homes in the village.

Brett Freake, a community planner for W. Dusk, said the study will start with an inventory of all the houses in Skidegate to see if any roofs need replacing — the ideal is a south-facing, metal roof that will last the lifetime of the solar panels.

It will include a cost-benefit analysis showing the likely payback period, and how much diesel power the panels would offset.

When local crews began replacing the nine-year-old cedar roof above the Haida Heritage Centre for this project, they were surprised to find that much of it had significant water damage — a problem that recently plagued the attached Haida Gwaii Museum until some major repairs.

“We got it just in the nick of time,” said Isaac. “Had we got it any later, it would have been a lot more expensive.”

Freake said once all 385 panels are gathering power at the Ḵay, W. Dusk would like to install a monitor that shows in real-time how much power that array and the one over the George Brown Rec Centre are generating.

During the ceremony, Gaagwiis/Jason Alsop acknowledged Gwaii Haanas and other Haida Gwaii villages for doing their own green-energy projects.

“It’s an honour to be here today to celebrate this special moment in our history, in Haida history, in Haida Gwaii history, as we start to make this transition,” he said.

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