Community driven renewable energy projects that consider local needs are integral to meeting growing energy demand while reducing associated environmental impacts.
Through its Renewable Skills Initiative, Iron & Earth partners with communities to build local capacity and develop innovative community-driven wind and solar energy projects. I had the incredible opportunity to coordinate this initiative over the past two years. Here's my story.
How it started
At the end of 2020, I graduated with a Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development and was finishing my role in land management at a small oil and gas company after 17 years in the industry. I was at a crossroads in my career - the company was in receivership, and I was inspired by the possibilities to use the skills and experience from my oil and gas career to support the diversification of the energy system. I began working with Keith Hirsche, lead of the RenuWell Project and partner for my capstone research project, “Brownfields to Brightfields: Re-Purposing Alberta’s Unreclaimed Oil and Gas Sites for Solar Photovoltaics.”
Through my work with Keith, I was introduced to Iron & Earth, a RenuWell Project partner responsible for developing and delivering the RenuWell Workforce Training Program in collaboration with Medicine Hat College and taking the lead on the communications about this innovative pilot. I started working with Iron & Earth to support collaboration with Desmond Bull from the Louis Bull Tribe to develop solar and wind energy energy-focused rapid upskilling training programs and to build a network of renewable skills instructors. By the end of 2021, the scope of my role with Iron & Earth expanded to include the coordination of three additional Renewable Skills Initiative training programs during Spring/Summer 2022.
How it went
In partnership with Maskwacis Cultural College (MCC), we delivered two renewable skills training programs: Community Solar Skills (Watch the video) and Community Wind Skills in April and August, and installed two pole-mounted solar systems and an off-grid wind turbine. Collaborating with Dr. Claudine Louis, Elder John Crier, and Elaine Lightning from MCC, Iron & Earth Instructor Jason Courtepatte from Tapitow Li Salay, and Odilon Lemieux from Borrum Energy was an incredible experience for me. I was able to travel to the college several times throughout the training programs and was onsite for the pipe ceremony and ribbon-tying on the day the wind turbine tower was raised – an event that I will never forget. If you are travelling through Maskwacis, you can see the installations from Highway 2A and the colored ribbons tied to the wind turbine tower. I also travelled with the Wind Skills trainees to Halkirk Wind Farm for an informative and entertaining site tour by Site Operator Mark Jackson of Capital Power. These tours form part of the course delivery plan for the Renewable Skills Training programs. It was an honour to get to know the trainees on this field trip and experience this impressive wind energy facility up close.
Iron & Earth Instructor Devin Keats delivered Community Solar Skills in Nunatsiavut as part of the Nunatsiavut Government’s Youth Energy Training Program in 2022. There were unique learnings from this program delivery due to the remote location of the beautiful host communities, including the lead time required to ship course materials and the impacts of weather-related travel delays. With the help of my Iron & Earth colleagues and in collaboration with our partner Jamie Hewlett, Regional Energy Manager with the Nunatsiavut Government, the training program was a success with trainees gaining direct experience on two of four roof-mounted solar installations built by Green Sun Rising in Rigolet and Hopedale.
The RenuWell Workforce Training Program took place in June 2022 at Medicine Hat College and one of the RenuWell pilot solar sites near Barnwell, Alberta. This unique program, taught by Stan Hansen of Medicine College and Calvin Boire of Gabbez Pipefitting Inc., is designed to provide trainees with the knowledge about how to convert abandoned well sites for community solar installations. Powerful cross-cultural awareness teachings led by Knowledge Keeper David Restoule, took place on the first and last days of the training, providing trainees with a good framework rooted in Indigenous Knowledge. Trainees participated in a tour of Brooks Solar hosted by RenuWell Project partner, SkyFire Energy Inc., and gained direct experience working with portable solar materials at Medicine Hat College and building racking on site at the Barnwell Solar Project.
Coordinating these four program deliveries provided me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with amazing people while applying my knowledge and experience in energy development and expanding my project management skillset. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience resulting in training program participants discovering new career opportunities and the applicability of their skills in the renewable energy sector alongside the development of community-driven renewable energy projects.
Where it’s going
Iron & Earth is expanding its Renewable Skills Initiative program delivery to six training programs in at least three communities in 2023. As I shift my focus back to my roots in the RenuWell Project, I am excited to be passing the torch of the Renewable Skills Initiative to Marion Adda, Project Manager and Anthony Giglio, Project Coordinator, who will lead the advance of Iron & Earth’s renewable skills program deliveries in 2023 and beyond. I want to extend my sincere gratitude to the Iron & Earth team for the opportunity and support I was provided in my role. I look forward to seeing Iron & Earth’s Renewable Skills Initiative continue to grow and support Indigenous and rural community members who are interested in learning about the applicability of their energy skills sets and building renewable energy infrastructure that best serves local energy needs.
Iron & Earth thanks Alyssa for all her work on our Renewable Skills Initiatives and for anyone interested in turning rusted old well sites into green solar projects, Alyssa is carrying on the RenuWell work so get in touch with her!