Power to the (First) People

by Ian Scholten

The current oil bust aside, there is a substantial shift occurring in Canada’s energy production. A range of forces – public interest, climate change efforts, increased energy demands, and the dropping price of technology, to name a few – are resulting in a massive growth of the renewable energy sector. Across the country, provinces are opening up incentive programs to encourage clean energy projects. In Ontario, the energy system operator opened a call for 300MW of renewable energy projects to be added to the grid. Alberta recently announced a $5 million solar energy incentive program and is aiming to have 30% of its energy supplied by renewable sources by 2030. Saskatchewan promises even more renewable growth, striving for 50% of its power to come from clean energy by 2030. The federal government just announced $5.4 million in funding to support Indigenous participation in clean energy production in British Columbia.

When we think about clean energy, there are three types that usually come to mind: hydro, solar, and wind. This makes sense as, according to Clean Energy Canada, these three account for 96% of the renewable energy production worldwide. However, there are a number of other forms of clean energy that can be pursued, including: biomass and waste energy, tidal energy, geothermal, and co-generation. Which type is right for a particular area ultimately depends on the availability of “fuel”. If the wind doesn’t blow strong enough, then a wind project won’t be a good choice. The same idea applies to the other forms of renewable energy.

But clean energy projects also go beyond the generation of energy itself. Building transmission lines (as is planned in Northern Ontario through Wataynikaneyap Power) opens up access to renewable energy for remote communities that might otherwise be reliant on diesel generators. Retro-fits to make homes and buildings more energy efficient also often play into clean energy efforts.

But, what does all of this for Indigenous peoples? They are all opportunities. Opportunities not only for jobs and effective economic development but for ownership and therefore a steady source of income – income that is separate from federal funding.

The Portage Dam, beside which the Okikendawt Dam was built in partnership with the Dokis First Nation.

The Portage Dam, beside which the Okikendawt Dam was built in partnership with the Dokis First Nation.

The most abundant sources of clean energy exist on Indigenous traditional territories. This fact, combined with the regulations surrounding the Duty to Consult, mean that Indigenous peoples are in an ideal position to secure agreements and partnerships with project developers. These can include everything from guaranteed numbers of jobs for community members, to training opportunities, to the role traditional knowledge plays in assessments, to, more significantly, equity and ownership in the project itself.

Ownership and partnership in clean energy projects provide a steady, dependable source of revenue for a community. With proper management this money can be used for the long term to meet other vital community needs such as infrastructure upgrades, education, health care, and housing improvements. It can even be used to invest in other clean energy projects, generating even more income.

To give you a sense of the revenue available, Kanaka Bar Band receives over $1 million a year through it’s involvement with a hydro project on its lands. Rainy River First Nation, made $80,000 in a single day through a solar project which the community wholly owns. All of this money can be reinvested in other aspects of their communities.

Clean energy can be a significant step on the path to self-determination and self-sufficiency. Already, over 80 projects across the country have been developed with Aboriginal partners or owners. Now is the time to seize the opportunities, lead the transition to clean energy, and realize the tremendous benefits it holds for Indigenous communities.

There is a lot to learn about this industry and the benefits it holds for Aboriginal peoples. If you’re looking to dive deeper, Aboriginal Power by Chris Henderson is a great place to start. A map of Indigenous Clean Energy projects can be found at: indigenouscleanenergy.com. If your community is interested in pursuing renewable energy, look into the 20/20 Catalysts Program. There you will learn how to maximize the benefits from clean energy projects and connect with a network of other Indigenous leaders working to bring projects to life across the country. More information at: 2020catalystsprogram.com.

Ian Scholten is a Project Manager at Lumos Clean Energy Advisors and the Catalyst Coordinator for the 20/20 Catalysts Program. You can reach him at: ischolten@lumosenergy.com or 613-562-2005 ext. 235