Blog: Renewable energies: favoured but formidable

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We often have to remind non-Indigenous people that Indigenous Peoples do not automatically speak with one voice. Some favour natural-resource development; some do not. Some are for oil and gas pipelines, and some are against.

But First Nations people do agree on this: They care for the natural environment. They have done so for countless thousands of years. Since time immemorial, they have been stewards of the environment. It is in their DNA.

And so we hear one strong Indigenous voice on this: The faster and sooner the world switches to renewable sources of energy the better.

First Nations and Inuit and Métis in Canada are already showing or sharing in the way. At last count, Indigenous communities and companies are involved in a total of 204 clean-energy projects across Canada.

And those are the larger projects. There are many hundreds of smaller ones. The Indigenous Clean Energy Agency estimates that there are as many as 2,100 micro- and small renewable-energy systems with Indigenous leadership and partnerships..

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices says: “Today, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit entities are partners or beneficiaries of almost 20 per cent of Canada’s electricity-generating infrastructure, and almost all of that infrastructure is producing renewable energy. Indigenous Peoples are thus at the forefront of the country’s clean-energy evolution.”

Among the 204 large projects in Canada, First Nations own, or are partners in, wind-power projects in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and BC.

One such project in Ontario, Henvey Inlet, can generate enough power for 100 thousand homes. It is expected to generate over $10 million annually for the Henvey Inlet First Nation over the next 20 years.

The Cape Scott wind farm on northern Vancouver Island has three First Nations as partners: the Quatsino, Tatlatsikwala and Kwakiutl. It can generate enough to power 30,000 homes.

Also in BC, there are hopes for a windfarm off the coast of Haida Gwaii in Hecate Strait, where you find some of the world’s strongest and most consistent winds. If that comes about, it could power 200,000 homes, and cut carbon emissions by some 450,000 tonnes per year.

Solar power? You bet. . . . First Nations are already in the game.

Across Canada, remote communities have for decades relied on burning diesel fuel for electricity and heating. It is invariably trucked in, burning more fossil fuel. The Pembina Institute estimates that as much as 79% of the electricity used in remote communities originates from diesel.

With help from governments, though, those communities are increasingly looking at cleaner energy such as solar.

Some 200 kilometres north of Alberta’s oil sands is the remote community of Fort Chipewyan. There, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Fort Chipewyan Metis Association have built a solar plant that will reduce their use of diesel fuel by more than 800,000 litres each year and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2,250 tonnes. The Fort McKay Métis Nation in the same region has a solar farm that  will save the community up to $10,000 in annual energy costs.

On Vancouver Island, the T’Sou-ke First Nation is often called Canada’s first Aboriginal solar community. It generates power, and its  commercial greenhouse project will use  electricity and hot water from the sun — as well as using the sun’s  rays — to grow food for local and international markets.

Also on Vancouver Island, the Sc’ianew First Nation southwest of Victoria came up with the idea of a thermal-energy system that would draw heat from the ocean — no matter how cold we think the water is — and use it to heat homes and other properties.

Speaking of the ocean, there are five major tidal-power projects under way in the Atlantic provinces. In BC, one early study estimated 192 possible sites for tidal power development. One modest project was built in BC, then scrapped. Some others have been mooted — at least one with First Nations involvement — but nothing is yet being built.

In British Columbia in 2007, one small wind turbine was erected on an off-grid property on North Beach, Haida Gwaii. Now the Skidegate Band Council and Old Massett Village Council are working to transition Haida Gwaii  to 100-per-cent renewable energy. The plan is to deploy a solar system, and to expand an existing hydroelectricity installation.

First Nations have long been involved in hydro projects, in both large dam projects and small run-of-river projects.

One big example: the $156-million Kwoiek Creek hydroelectric project in BC, in which the Kanaka Bar Indian Band is a partner. It can produce enough power for 22,000 households.

Another example: a hydro station on the Abitibi River in northeastern Ontario, which can power 25,000 homes and businesses. The Taykwa Tagamou Nation is a partner in it.

As for smaller run-of-river projects, they make up more than half of First Nations’ renewable-energy projects in BC, with wind energy second at 30 per cent.

One problem, though: The Pembina Institute and New Relationship Trust say there are at least 13 renewable-energy projects from First Nations that are “shovel ready” — but they cannot move forward without a signal from the BC government that their power could be sold to BC Hydro.

Then there’s hydrogen, another clean-energy source of much interest to First Nations.  One company has signed MOUs with First Nations in BC and Manitoba, and with the Innu Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador, to explore production of green hydrogen from natural gas.

The Fort Nelson First Nation in BC looks to create a $1.2-billion hydrogen facility, in partnership with Hydrogen Naturally Inc. They say it would produce a million tonnes of hydrogen, and remove more than 20 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere over 50 years.

And now we even hear of First Nations becoming interested in the potential of small, modular nuclear reactors to produce local and regional power.

All in all, Canada faces formidable challenges to implement cleaner and renewable power.

Yes, Ottawa has an ambitious plan to get Canada to cut emissions by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

But to do all that, we’re looking at billions of dollars in investment in Canada. And, as things stand now, the watchdog federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development says: “The greening of government is falling short of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”

And he adds that Canada has been the worst performer among G7 nations on climate targets since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.

Trottier Energy Futures Project, a collaborative effort by the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the David Suzuki Foundation, says the challenges for Canadians between now and 2050 include these things:

  • An 80% reduction in greenhouse gases;
  • Ensuring access to carbon-free electrical generation and storage;
  • Attracting a massive amount of infrastructure investment immediately;
  • And giving attention to all sources of non-combustion emissions.

Trottier estimated that Canada would need 16 nuclear power stations to make the leap to 2050 – or 6,300 solar farms, or 2,500 wind farms.

Providing the equivalent of this much electricity is a truly monumental challenge.

But we agree we must get on top of climate issues. First Nations understand it. First Nations know it. And First Nations support it.

But do our governments really get it? Do they really understand that it will take not just public support but massive public investment?

Our view: We’ve had enough campaign promises. We’ve had enough vague “roadmaps”. We’ve had numerous climate targets, and missed them all.

Now, then, is the time for a real plan, from Ottawa and from the provinces.

Where. Is. The. Plan?

(Posted here 29 April 2022)

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