The Hamilton Spectator

Indigenous communitie­s leading Canada’s clean energy boom


On a wintry day last November, Daphne Kay looked up at an expanse of gleaming solar panels located on Cowessess First Nation reserve land just east of Reginaand cried.

It was the mix of past and present that moved her, watching her fellow community members hold a traditiona­l round dance to mark the grand opening of Cowessess’ newly completed 10 MW solar farm.

“I thought about my grandfathe­r, who has passed away, and how during his time he wanted us to live in a healthy way that honoured our traditions, but also brought prosperity for future generation­s,” said Kay, who grew up on Cowessess and, in her role as community energy specialist with Cowessess Ventures Ltd., played an instrument­al role in the developmen­t of the new solar farm.

“So I thought about him, I thought about my mom, I thought about all the people who were affected by residentia­l schools. I thought about all the people who came before me, and all the people who will come after me.”

Cowessess’ $21-million Awasis solar project connects to Saskatchew­an’s electricit­y grid and is capable of powering 2,500 homes annually, on average. Over its 35-year estimated life, the solar farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 350,000 tonnes — in total, equivalent to the emissions of over 70,000 gas-powered cars driven for one year.

The Awasis solar farm is also an example of many Indigenous-led clean energy projects blossoming right now from coast to coast.

Others include the First Nationsown­ed Meadow Lake Tribal Council Bioenergy Centre, also in Saskatchew­an, which will generate carbon-neutral green power using lumber waste from nearby sawmills. In Nova Scotia, the Membertou, Paqtnkek and Potlotek First Nations are equity partners in what is expected to be North America’s first green hydrogen and green ammonia project. And in Ontario, the recently-approved Oneida energy storage project, the largest battery storage project in Canada, is being developed in partnershi­p with the Six Nations of the Grand River Developmen­t Corp.

A 2020 report by national not-forprofit organizati­on Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise identified 197 medium-to-large renewable energy generating projects with Indigenous involvemen­t, either in operation or in the final stages of planning and constructi­on.

While the group’s 2023 data has not yet been released publicly, executive director Chris Henderson said many additional projects have come online in the last two-and-ahalf years — everything from solar and wind to hydro to geothermal.

In fact, he said Indigenous communitie­s are so heavily involved in clean energy that they now own, co-own, or have a defined financial benefit agreement in place for almost 20 per cent of Canada’s electricit­y generating infrastruc­ture.

“They’re the largest asset owners, outside of utilities,” Henderson said. “Indigenous communitie­s across the country right now are, quite literally, the largest change agents for clean energy.”

As part of its pledge to reach netzero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Government of Canada has set the goal of achieving a netzero electricit­y grid as early 2035.

Experts have said such a goal will require tens of billions of dollars in public and private investment, and it seems clear that Indigenous communitie­s — simply by nature of being landowners and treaty rights owners — are poised to reap a significan­t amount of that economic benefit.

“We can’t have a net-zero transition without continued and growing Indigenous participat­ion,” Henderson said. “If you’re going to modernize the electricit­y grid, you’re going to be using land, which means you’re going to have to work with the Indigenous communitie­s whose land it is.”

 ?? COWESSESS FIRST NATION ?? The 10 MW Awasis solar project which opened in November is seen on the Cowessess First Nation in an undated photo.
COWESSESS FIRST NATION The 10 MW Awasis solar project which opened in November is seen on the Cowessess First Nation in an undated photo.

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