Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
British Columbia First Nations need their leaders to advocate strongly on their behalf if clean energy is to become a viable stream of revenue in First Nations economies, participants of the First Nations Energy Summit heard.
And the Horgan provincial government must live up to its October election promises and implement the BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act with full consultation of Indigenous peoples in the province.
“From the election in that platform, there was some commitments to furthering long-term agreements for self-determination with Indigenous peoples. There were commitments to improving provincial policy and legislation through Indigenous input,” said Dave Lovekin, the director of the Pembina Institute's work on renewables in remote communities.
“So actually developing good policy with Indigenous voice and perspective and partnering with Indigenous people through shared decision making. So there’s three pretty substantial commitments,” he said.
The First Nations Energy Summit was held Nov. 12 and 13, sponsored by Clean Energy BC and the New Relationship Trust.
BC First Nations have an impressive track record when it comes to renewable energy. There are 125 independent power production (IPP) projects, many dating back several decades, 77 of which are fully or partially owned by First Nations or have revenue-sharing agreements.
This represents 2,340 MW installed capacity and 8,200 GWh of electricity generation.
IPP projects include hydro, wind, solar and biomass. This accounts for 13 per cent of BC’s total electricity generation.
Many remote First Nation communities have either replaced their need for diesel or have greatly reduced their need for diesel through a wide range of innovative clean energy generation, said Cole Sayers of the New Relationship Trust’s Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative.
“It’s much more than just an economic project. It’s about extending love to the land … It’s about having a low impact on our territories, having projects that generate revenue for us and jobs, but also respect the land,” said Sayers, a summit featured speaker.
However, with the approval of the Site C dam by the B.C. government, it has become more and more difficult for First Nations to turn an economic profit on electricity generation, said Judith Sayers, board member on the New Relationship Trust Foundation and Clean Energy BC.
Part of that challenge comes from BC Hydro suspending its Standing Offer and Micro Standing Offer programs in early 2019. BC Hydro is no longer accepting new applications or awarding new electricity purchase agreements, with the exception of the five First Nations clean energy projects that were announced on March 14, 2018.
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“There is no economic opportunity for (larger) projects, so what First Nations have been concentrating on are … in-community projects, developing capacity and energy sovereignty. So really the issue is the government has made no economic opportunities (for First Nations),” said Judith Sayers.
Lovekin said the capacity installed and electricity generated by First Nations IPP projects are currently more than two times the planned capacity of Site C and one-and-a-half times the planned electricity generation from Site C.
“With the uncertainty of Site C, the controversy of it, this is a huge testament to how significant of a role First Nation IPP sector is in BC,” said Lovekin.
The environmental cost of such a large project also has to be taken into consideration, said Cole Sayers.
“You just can’t build mega-projects to have this ecological impact while violating Indigenous rights. It can’t happen anymore. Part of what we’re doing is offering a pathway that is now implementing the (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) so we don’t have to continue the coloniality of power and electricity infrastructure of this province. Otherwise we’re going to continue to make the colonial wrongs in the present. We can’t do that moving forward,” said Cole Sayers.
Lovekin noted that the BC Utilities Commission’s Indigenous Utility Regulatory Inquiry opened the door to First Nations participation in the utility sector. (An IPP is a power generator that is not a utility.) The final report was presented with revised recommendations in April.
There are 35 recommendations, including providing assistance to Indigenous utilities wanting to export energy outside of BC. It also called for the government to reconsider the Standing Offer Program and for the government to encourage economic partnerships between incumbent utilities and First Nations.
What’s needed now, said Lovekin, is for First Nation leadership to push the government with policy recommendations that will lead to First Nations realizing economic benefits through full inclusion in the utility energy generation and transmission market.
“This is the time to voice and hold (the province) accountable for the commitments that have been put forward,” he said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.