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First Nations homes will tap into the earth’s energy for heat with geothermal technology

Some 850 Peguis and Fisher River First Nations homes will tap into the earth’s energy for heat with geothermal technology under a new Manitoba Hydro plan.

The homes on Peguis and Fisher will be retrofitted for the technology over the next five years, under a memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday at a news conference with provincial officials and aboriginal leaders.

“Because of the forward thinking of their chiefs and council, the citizens of these two communities will benefit from lower heating bills and increased employment for many years to come,” Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said.

Geothermal energy is a cost-effective renewable energy source particularly suitable for electrically heated homes to reduce costs. Through the use of a geothermal heat pump, space heating and cooling are provided. Like a refrigerator or air conditioner, these systems use a heat pump to transfer thermal energy between the ground and the building.

The deal will lead to over $13 million in geothermal retrofits and in turn will generate $17 million in energy savings.

“It’s hydro money and it pays itself back,” Robinson said in an interview. Under the deal, homeowners repay the cost of retrofit through their monthly utility bills.

“It’s such an innovative project, the cost of heating homes with geothermal energy. It’s something we’re very excited about, many of these communities are now going through the retrofit. Peguis and Fisher River have led the way on that,” Robinson said.

More than 200 homes are already equipped with geothermal heat on the two Interlake First Nations, thanks to an earlier partnership with Manitoba Hydro and its homeowner loans program.

Projects like these mark a new chapter in the province, said the minister who is also in charge of Manitoba Hydro.

“I’m very happy we’re finally at that point in our history where we have this opportunity. Alternative energy is the wave of the future,” Robinson said.

The deal was signed at a two-day alternative energy conference hosted by Aki Energy, a social enterprise agency that is the catalyst for sustainable and alternative energy projects on Manitoba First Nations, including the geothermal schemes.

“What we’re saying is this work is going so well, we want to go on and finish every house on the two First Nations,” Aki Energy business development manager Shaun Loney said.

Similar projects are going ahead on Long Plain First Nation and Sagkeeng First Nations, each about an hour’s drive from Winnipeg, creating jobs for both.

“There are a lot of opportunities on First Nations. It’s a myth that First Nations have no economic base. They do,” Loney said.

“Our traditional economies were once centred on local economic activity that was good for the land and the people,” said David Crate, the Fisher River Cree Nation Chief. “This is an excellent first step to us becoming energy independent.”

Crate added the agreements mean work crews will add to their experience, allowing them to branch out and eventually work off-reserve in non-First Nations communities.

“Employment and economic development are what will make our First Nation successful,” said Chief Glen Hudson of Peguis First Nation. “We will only be successful if we reduce the amount of money leaving our communities.”

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