For some First Nation communities in the province, clean energy projects might be the ideal blend of economic development and environmental stewardship.
Earlier this month, the B.C. government added $2.1 million to the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund. Since 2010, the fund has provided over $8.2 million dollars to First Nation communities for clean energy projects.
The new round of funding will prioritise remote Aboriginal communities currently powered by diesel generators. According to a report from the University of Waterloo, 23 remote Aboriginal communities in B.C. currently rely on diesel generators.
The number of clean energy projects in Aboriginal communities has been increasing across the country, and not just in remote communities without connection to the grid. The Indigenous Renewable Energy project estimates there are around 300 Indigenous clean energy projects across the country. The lion’s share is in B.C., where 153 projects are under way.
For the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island, clean energy paired both job creation and care for the environment. The First Nation rejected plans for the proposed Duke Point natural gas facility and instead, in 2006 built a 6.5-megawatt micro-hydro project. The Hupacasath First Nation also signed a contract with BC Hydro to power up to 6000 homes with the electricity generated from the micro-hydro dam. While planning the site, Hupacasath members the needs of the local trout population.
A point to note is that the Hupacasath First Nation retained a 72.5 per cent controlling interest in the corporation formed to manage the dam.
“For many communities, [clean energy] is the best economic development opportunity they have had since the demise of the fur trade, commercial fisheries and logging,” said Dr. Judith Sayers, former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, in a Vancouver Sun op-ed.
A potential barrier for other communities considering clean energy projects may be the lack of human capital in remote areas, suggested Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute in an interview with The Tyee. “If you’re looking at both the technical side of developing a project and the administrative side of management, you’re looking at a whole new skill set for most communities,” said Horne. “[However], I don’t think they’re barriers that can’t be overcome.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Dr. Madjid Mohseni, UBC professor and scientific director of the RES'EAU-WaterNET network which helps create drinking-water systems in rural communities.
“The very key component is . . . the community’s capacity to operate and maintain any type of [technological] solution,” said Dr. Mohseni. “If you have people with [technological and management] knowledge . . . they can do things with minimal resources available.”
By Jenny Tan, 23 February 2017