Saskatchewan’s Ocean Man First Nation has partnered with New York-based Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI) to build and operate one of Canada’s largest solar facilities.
SaskPower announced that it had selected Iyuhána Solar LP (a partnership between GSI, Saturn Power and Ocean Man) to build a 100 megawatt (MW) solar facility seven kilometres southwest of Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Sask.
Ocean Man holds a 10 per cent ownership stake in the project – with the partnership guaranteeing a share of employment and economic spinoffs for the First Nation.
“It’s going to benefit us first and foremost by employment. Anyone who wants to work will be able to work,” Chief Connie Big Eagle told CTV News.
The community is currently working with several educational institutions to coordinate training for its prospective workforce.
“They’ll gain skills and training and then of course, the revenue that comes in from it will be helpful to Ocean Man First Nation for years to come,” Big Eagle explained.
Once operational, the facility will cover approximately 540 acres, consisting of 200,000 solar modules. SaskPower estimates that the plant will be capable of powering around 25,000 homes.
The $200 million project will supply electricity to SaskPower in a 25 year agreement.
Ocean Man First Nation and Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI) are partnering on what will be Saskatchewan’s largest solar project.
“We have just started our development work. We anticipate that development work to take about a year,” Mazen Turk, CEO of GSI, explained. “We are contemplating going into construction maybe in Q2 of 2025 with an anticipated service day before Q4 of 2026.”
Turk says it’s still too early to say how many personnel will be needed to construct and run the facility.
It’s still a little bit early to talk about construction,” he said. “[But] Ocean Man First Nation will also be involved during the construction of the project and during the long term operation and maintenance. Ocean Man First Nation will receive specialized training for its band members, creating long term employment opportunities and the renewable energy and sustainability within their community.”
The latest solar project is not Ocean Man’s first foray into the renewable energy industry.
In 2021, the 500 member strong first nation completed two solar projects. The plants produce 720 kilowatts and 280 kilowatts respectively.
Combined, the two plants provide energy to around 200 homes.
“So it was helpful that we knew what to expect in the bid for this bigger project,” Big Eagle said, as she reflected on the early plants. “It’s helping Ocean Man out as well. We’re proud of it. No matter what the scale.”
According to Turk, GSI intends to expand its presence in Saskatchewan and across western Canada and looks forward to future opportunities in the field.
“We intend to participate in future RFQs in the province and we plan to continue growing our footprint in western Canada. The ongoing advancement of technology I feel with the decreasing costs and environmental benefits makes solar an increasingly attractive and viable option for sustainable energy generation,” he explained.
Once constructed, the Iyuhána Solar Energy Facility will be among the 10 largest solar plants in the country – the largest being the Travers Solar Project in Alberta, capable of producing 465 MW.
For Ocean Man itself, Chief Big Eagle says the solar opportunity is even more exciting given the Nation’s size and history.
“We’re a small First Nation and our history is that we were amalgamated with a bigger First Nation, almost a century ago. Then we were re-established to start all over again and that we are the ones who were the successful applicants for this project. So it’s full circle for us,” she explained.
“But we’re so proud that little Ocean Man is going to be involved in in powering and employing people in this area of our province.”
The project’s name “lyuhána” holds a deep meaning for those in the First Nation.
“We were asked to select a name … then one morning, it hits me that this project is going to serve a lot of people in many ways … and so I thought, how about ‘everyone’ or ‘all of us’ in our language?” Big Eagle explained. “That’s what Iyuhána translates to in Nakota: All of us or everyone.”
As part of its net-zero strategy, SaskPower plans to add 3,000 MW of wind and solar energy to its generating capacity by 2035.
Going forward, all Independent Power Producer (IPP) projects will include at least 10 per cent Indigenous ownership.
“As the first peoples of this continent we do need to be involved in these types of projects,” Big Eagle added.
“We do need to be involved in earning revenue from the resources that are everywhere around our country.”