LaDuke: Canada: It's time to go solar

Winona LaDuke is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist and writer. Special to Forum News Service

Right here in Ponsford, 8th Fire Solar has launched its solar thermal manufacturing facility. Nick Belrock, Jon Martin, Eric Fasthorse and Ronnie Chilton brought online the first solar thermal panel, the Solstice, last week. The Solstice is a Solar Rating Certification Corporation-certified solar heating unit that can reduce the heating bills in a house by about 20 percent. Since we spend about a third of our money heating our houses in the winter, this is a no-brainer.

Here’s how the solar furnaces work: Mounted on a building’s south side, the panels collect the sun’s heat inside insulated black glass panels. A thermostatically-controlled fan blows the collected air heat into the house, shop or greenhouse during the day and automatically closes the dampers to keep the cold out at night or when the sun isn’t shining.

A state-of the-art system creates airtight, seamless connections. The airflow design and modularity allow for uniform air distribution, flexible installation and maximum heat capture. Pretty simple technology.

The 8th Fire Solar panels come out after two years of planning and hard work, and a technology transfer agreement with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. The alliance created the technology and successfully installed them for a decade, working nationally with dealerships.



Honor the Earth, with headquarters on White Earth, raised funds to purchase the technology and launch the new enterprise. Support came from the Northwest Area Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation and national funders. It was a huge project for Honor the Earth. Pam Mahling, special projects director for Honor the Earth explains, “We’re trying to build a local and sustainable economy.”
Built to withstand even the coldest climates, the solar collectors have the best Btu-per-dollar ratio on the market. The price per panel varies according to the installation, but one thing is a certain: It will be cold in the winter in Minnesota. In fact, it will be cold each winter in much of the north country.The company expects to sell these panels not only to the U.S. , but also to Canadian markets.

By and large, Canada’s pretty cold. For instance, take Pikani territory or Blackfeet territory. Spanning from Montana to Alberta, these are among the largest reserves in Canada and the U.S., with over 5,000 homes, many of them situated on the prairie. It’s ironic that despite Alberta’s oil boom, people are still cold in the winter. This may be the answer.

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There's a warm wind blowing into Calgary today. Tomorrow it’s expected to be warm, the rest of the week warmer. That should be in Minnesota in about three days. That’s how long the blizzard took to get from Calgary to Minnesota. That’s also about how long it will take a barrel of oil to get to Minnesota from Calgary, the Houston of the North. The May 7th blizzard set a record in Minnesota for the largest snowfall in May, and did the same in Calgary three days earlier.

With climate change, it will be cold, it will be hot, and it will be unpredictable. As the international oil market adds uncertainty to the future of Canada’s tar sands, and a lack of pipelines pushes further, it may be time for Canada to come up with a Plan B. Canada’s tar sands are failing in the markets. They just cant compete with cheap oil from elsewhere. Nor can they get to market. Despite fantasies of selling oil to Chinese markets, it seems that China’s moving rapidly into electric cars.

Recently, two Native women stood in the midst of screaming tar sands workers out of jobs hoping for a new oil boom in Alberta. That was the Enbridge shareholders meeting May 8. That’s come and gone. In the meantime, $25 billion has been invested in Canada's clean-energy sector in the past five years, and employment is up 37%. That’s according to a new report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada.

The skinny: The 23,700 people who work in green energy outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands. Alberta, or Pikani territory, has the second most solar potential of any province in Canada, following Saskatchewan. As the tar sands industry panics in the face of divestment and cheaper oil everywhere else, it might be time for Alberta to take a note from the people of White Earth: time to go solar. After all, once installed, you can project the price of future fuel in solar, and it’s zero. No need to stress.

The name 8th Fire Solar comes from Anishinaabe prophecies, according to the company’s website: “We have a choice between a well-worn, scorched path and one that is green and unworn. If we choose the green path, the 8th Fire will be lit and a better future will be formed.” I tell you what, you quit sending us tar sands, and we can help you all make a sustainable energy future with solar. Honestly. Spring’s here, time for a renaissance, time for solar.


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