Re­new­able En­ergy as Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

Policy - - Contents - Guest Col­umn / El­iz­a­beth May

Canada faces ma­jor chal­lenges that, while ap­pear­ing sep­a­rate, may share a com­mon so­lu­tion. I would rate cli­mate change and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween In­dige­nous peo­ples and non-in­dige­nous as top and press­ing pri­or­i­ties. The po­ten­tial to find so­lu­tions to both through re­new­able en­ergy and in­dige­nous part­ner­ships is real. Across Canada, with lit­tle fan­fare, sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments are be­ing made in re­new­able en­ergy and clean tech by in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 sur­vey con­ducted by Chris Hen­der­son for Lu­mos En­ergy, nearly one-fifth of the coun­try’s re­new­able en­ergy projects are be­ing led by or par­tially owned by In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. Where in 2008, there were ap­prox­i­mately 20 such projects, in 2017 there were 152 medium to large re­new­able en­ergy projects with In­dige­nous in­volve­ment. A medium to large project pro­vides the elec­tric­ity for 400-500 homes. In ad­di­tion, there were 1,200 re­new­able projects with in­dige­nous in­volve­ment that gen­er­ated less. In the 2017 sur­vey, 63 per cent of the projects in­volved hy­dro­elec­tric power, 24 per cent were wind power and only 13 per cent so­lar and biomass.

Back in 2013 Chris Hen­der­son doc­u­mented the enor­mous po­ten­tial for in­dige­nous in­volve­ment in re­new­able en­ergy in his book, Abo­rig­i­nal Power: Clean En­ergy and the Fu­ture of Canada’s First Peo­ples. Since then, many new and larger projects have been launched.

While so­lar was a small com­po­nent even a year ago, the plung­ing price for photo-voltaic pan­els has con­trib­uted to a lot of newly in­stalled In­dige­nous so­lar ca­pac­ity. The two largest so­lar projects in Bri­tish Columbia are both owned and op­er­ated by First Na­tions. The largest was in­stalled in 2016 by the Nicola band, near Mer­ritt, and the sec­ond is the T’Sou-ke so­lar project on south­ern Van­cou­ver Is­land.

So­lar is also be­ing in­stalled by First Na­tions in Al­berta. The Lu­bi­con and now the four na­tions south of Ed­mon­ton col­lec­tively known as Maskwacis are ben­e­fit­ing from di­rect elec­tric­ity har­nessed from the sun’s en­ergy. The Maskwacis, with fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Al­berta gov­ern­ment, have in­stalled 750 so­lar pan­els on pub­lic build­ings.

Mean­while, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted up to $220 mil­lion over six years to as­sist re­mote in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties get off diesel and move to re­new­able en­ergy.

Here on Van­cou­ver Is­land, the tiny com­mu­nity of Hu­pacasath First Na­tion has achieved a strong mea­sure of ex­pe­ri­ence oth­ers can build on. Back in 2005, the Hu­pacasath First Na­tion took a 72 per cent own­er­ship po­si­tion in build­ing a run-of-the-river hy­dro­elec­tric dam on China Creek. It pro­vides more than enough elec­tric­ity for the com­mu­nity, as well as for 6,000 homes in Port Al­berni which has a 5 per cent share in the dam.

This ex­pe­ri­ence turned the Hu­pacasath chief at the time, Ju­dith Say­ers, into a pow­er­ful voice for in­dige­nous self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in har­ness­ing re­new­able en­ergy. It also led her to be a per­sis­tent critic of BC Hy­dro and its mega-project at Site C. Both megapro­jects—Muskrat Falls in New­found­land and Labrador and Site C in BC—have in com­mon vi­o­la­tion of in­dige­nous rights, de­struc­tion of crit­i­cal wildlife habi­tat to pro­duce un­nec­es­sary power at a price no one can af­ford.

So much more could have been ac­com­plished for re­new­able en­ergy and re­spect for in­dige­nous rights if Site C had been turned down. In my rid­ing, a wind en­ergy com­pany, Ae­o­lis Wind, had al­ready de­vel­oped agree­ments with the Treaty 8 na­tions in the Peace River area for a mas­sive wind farm project. It would have taken ad­van­tage of the steady and strong winds, not in­ter­fered with tra­di­tional in­dige­nous sites nor flooded out thou­sands of hectares of prime agri­cul­tural land. It would have con­nected to the strong grid al­ready in ex­is­tence for the Ben­net dam. The BC Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion found re­new­ables to be cost ef­fec­tive com­pared with the megadam at Site C. Mean­while, Ae­o­lis had built in to the wind en­ergy plan a mas­sive bat­tery for stor­age of wind power to be kept on hand when the wind isn’t blow­ing.

Across Canada, there is tremen­dous po­ten­tial to en­gage in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties living near aban­doned mine or gravel pits to be used as reser­voirs. Es­sen­tially aban­doned mine sites at el­e­va­tion can be­come stor­age bat­ter­ies for re­new­ables.

Fully en­gag­ing in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties—cou­pled with mod­ern­iz­ing and en­hanc­ing the east-west elec­tric­ity grid to de­liver green en­ergy to prov­inces de­pen­dent on fos­sil fu­els, could mas­sively ac­cel­er­ate the de­car­boniza­tion of our elec­tric­ity sec­tor, while de­liv­er­ing on mean­ing­ful rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. It is time to take this po­ten­tial se­ri­ously.

El­iz­a­beth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Is­lands.

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