Forget global, go local
One Ontario town’s renewable direction
Anishinabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an “extreme extractive economy” fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a “regenerative economy” based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.
In her talk, LaDuke said, “The reality is that the next economy requires relocalization of food and energy systems, because it’s more efficient, it’s more responsible, it employs your people and you eat better.”
Human innovation has made it possible to extract less-accessible fossil fuels, and that’s provided jobs. But environmentally, socially and economically, this extreme behaviour can’t continue.
In Oxford County, Ontario (one and a half hours from Toronto), local farmers, community members, the Six Nations of the Grand River and Prowind Canada launched Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm in 2016. It produces enough electricity to power almost 7,000 homes.
Miranda Fuller, head of the Oxford Community Energy Cooperative, says the project helps connect people with the power they use and gives them a stake in their energy system. Its revenues are helping stabilize rural farm incomes, which helps protect local food systems and the community’s way of life. The project created about 200 jobs through development and construction. Some revenue goes to a community vibrancy fund and to student bursaries aimed at giving young people opportunities.
Oxford County became the second local government in Canada, after Vancouver, to adopt a commitment to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Gunn’s Hill makes up 15 per cent of Oxford County’s goal.
Indigenous communities are also innovating and leading on renewables. Chief Patrick Michell, of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in B.C., says meeting energy needs in concert with nature resonates with his nation’s values. Nlaka’pamux is working toward food and energy self-sufficiency. The Kanaka Bar Indian Band, one of 17 bands in the nation, has solar projects and has partnered with Innergex Renewable Energy and others on a run-of-river project to generate power and income.
“What you do to the land, you do to yourself,” Michell says, quoting a traditional saying.
Let’s focus on hope. On climate solutions. On renewable energy led by communities like Oxford County, Kanaka Bar and others rising to the challenge to create a regenerative economy for everyone.
Oxford County’s wind farm produces enough electricity for almost 7,000 homes
David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from Sherry Yano).