PRINCE ALBERT -- The Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) is hoping to inspire Indigenous businesses through its future bioenergy centre.

The centre, located near the MLTC’s NorSask Sawmill, has been under construction for one year. It will create carbon-neutral green power using waste wood. It’s expected to create 6.6 megawatts of baseload electricity to power about 5,000 homes in MLTC communities.

All of the proceeds will go to recreation and youth centres.

“I see it as a sense of ownership for our community members right now and also showing the province and also Canada that we’re economic drivers,” said MLTC Chief Richard Ben.

“(It) gives other First Nations, other tribal councils, other institutions that motivation that they can do it, too.”

The bioenergy centre will replace one of the last beehive burners in Canada, which burns the wood residuals from the sawmill, sending smoke into the atmosphere. The centre will also be entirely owned and ran by the MLTC, creating jobs for members.

Al Balisky, secretary and CEO of MLTC Industrial Investments, said the bioenergy centre is an efficient way to use wood waste.

“That waste energy, instead of just going up in smoke, can now actually be captured and produce electricity. It’s pretty exciting for us to participate in the economy like that, and also it will be green power,” he said.

“It was just a flat piece of ground next to the MLTC sawmill site one year ago,” said Balisky. “You’ll see a very different landscape there now.”

The MLTC anticipates they’ll be producing electricity by November, and steadily producing enough to fuel homes by December.

The MLTC received $52.5 million for the project through the federal green infrastructure funding stream, with the money being distributed by the province. In 2019, SaskPower signed a power purchase agreement with the MLTC for up to eight megawatts of biomass power.

The planning process started over a decade ago, according to Chief Ben.

“It’s a big thing for our community members; it’s a big thing for our environmentalists. We’re going green. We’re contributing to lower emissions in Canada,” he said.

Project coordinator Tina Rasmussen said the MLTC has done presentations to the national organization Indigenous Clean Energy and other federal programs.

“It’s a much larger project than most communities, most Indigenous communities, are looking at at this point, but it’s something they can grow towards,” said Rasmussen.

“It’s definitely leading the way.”

The bioenergy centre is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a million tonnes over 25 years.

The MLTC consists of nine communities: Canoe Lake Cree Nation, Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, English River First Nation, Waterhen Lake First Nation, Buffalo River Dene Nation, Clearwater River Dene Nation, Flying Dust First Nation and Makwa Sahgaiehcan Cree First Nation.