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Solar Energy Improving Lives in Canada’s Far North

“It holds a lot of significance for us, from past to present,” says Dawn Bell, of her family’s cabin outside of Fort Simpson, NWT, where she lived and was homeschooled for her first five years.

Newly-installed solar panels at Dawn Bell's family cabin in Fort Simpson, NWT.


That’s why Dawn and her family were delighted to have solar panels installed on the 45-year old cabin, as part of Iron & Earth’s solar power program. “It was pretty awesome to just turn on the lights with a switch for the first time, instead of firing up the generator,” she says.

Previously, Dawn and her family relied on a generator for their cabin, which meant hauling gas up the Mackenzie River to Trout River - a major hassle and expense. "My kids have only known the generator, so they were really surprised and happy at how quiet it was at the cabin without it,” she says. Now, their new solar panels produce enough power to use the freezer during the day, and to allow the kids to watch movies during the day if they want to; things they couldn't do before without listening to the generator.

“We were super fortunate to get into the (Iron & Earth) program, it was a great experience,” says Dawn. “We know that solar works and with most of the cost being covered, including the installation, we saw it as something that was very doable. The instructors were very professional and knowledgeable and explained technical information in a way that was easy to understand.”

Some of the more surprising things that Dawn learned through the program are that solar panels still work in the winter, even with snow on the panels, and that they can store a significant amount of power on cloudy days. “We were lucky to have an installer from the north, who could answer our questions about local snow, ice and sun conditions, and the best locations for the panels,” she says. She also learned about important safety measures, including how to cover the indoor wiring so that it isn’t accessible to her young children.

Dawn’s cabin’s solar panels have attracted interest and praise from family and friends. Although, as she notes, extreme low river levels meant the solar installers were forced to carry the materials and equipment to her cabin - a 30 minute trek.

Aside from extremely low water levels, the Northwest Territories’ buildings, roads, pipelines,and  transmission lines have been significantly impacted by climate change through early permafrost thaw and extreme weather events. Approximately 96% of the NWT’s annual human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are due to fossil fuel use. Dawn’s mother, who went through the Iron & Earth program with her, says that climate change and its impacts in the Dehcho region were already apparent over 50 years ago.

The Northwest Territories’ high electricity rates, 50% solar rebate, and sunlight levels make it an attractive region to build solar power at scale. Despite that potential, renewable energy currently accounts for only 2% of all electricity generation, although this is due to rise to 18% by 2050.

For more information about Iron & Earth’s training opportunities in clean energy, contact us at [email protected] or 778-771-0852. To search for renewable energy jobs or a career Mentor, visit our Climate Career Portal.


Iron & Earth’s training programs are funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.



Iron & Earth is committed to partnering with Indigenous workers to empower their communities to become self-sufficient in training programs, clean energy transition projects, and employment opportunities to combat environmental racism. It falls to all of us to continue the work of healing and reconciliation in our communities and our organizations. Our relationship with the land and the people who live here shapes who we are. It is in the spirit of reconciliation and honouring the past that we recognize treaties and agreements wherever they are and wherever we work.

We also acknowledge all peoples who live, work, and play on this land, and who honour and celebrate this territory.
As individuals and teams we may make mistakes along the way, but we are dedicated to growth, openness, compassion, and forgiveness. These principles in our work are essential to building successful and healthy relationships with individuals, communities, organizations, and governments.

We look forward to building a path to lead us to a better relationship with Indigenous nations and the environment around us based on peace, friendship, and respect.