Blog: First Nations leaders in clean energy

As the First Nations LNG Alliance, we naturally follow and share much news about liquefied natural gas, and how it can help bring down global greenhouse-gas emissions.

But there’s much more than that on the green-and-clean front, as First Nations — stewards of the environment since time immemorial — take the lead in producing modern clean and renewable energy.

We look today at just a few examples in Western Canada and British Columbia where we are based.

The Pembina Institute, which has been pressing for some 35 years for a clean-energy future in Canada, noted in a report earlier this year: “First Nations have played a vital role in Canada’s clean energy economy for decades.

“In British Columbia alone, First Nations own, operate or co-partner 79 grid-tied renewable energy projects. Combined, these projects deliver 13% of B.C.’s electricity.

“Indigenous People own numerous renewable-energy projects in remote communities with additional projects in development. Most are small-scale hydro, solar, wind or bioenergy projects.

“First Nations have invested millions of dollars in renewable energy projects, attracting capital independently and through partnerships with Independent Power Producer (IPP) companies.”

Some examples follow; it is by no means a comprehensive list.


 Some 200 remote and small communities in Canada rely on diesel-generated power. Indigenous ventures have been working for years to replace diesel with cleaner LNG or run-of-river hydro-electricity projects.

In BC, there are 68 run-of-river projects.  BC Hydro.
One pioneer example is from the Hupucasath Nation on Vancouver Island, which built its China Creek hydro project 17 years ago.

Another early leader, the Squamish Nation worked with developer BluEarth Renewables on the Culliton Creek hydro project, commissioned in 2016. In time, the Squamish will become full owners. Also in Squamish territory, BluEarth operates the Furry Creek hydro facility 50 km northwest of Vancouver and the McNair Creek hydro project, 40 km north of Vancouver.

The shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation worked in partnership with BluEarth on the Narrows Inlet hydro project, which has two run-of-river generating plants, and on the Tyson Creek hydro project 40 km north of Sechelt BC.

As well, BluEarth runs the Dasque-Middle hydro facility near Terrace (with support from the Kitselas and Metlakatla nations and the Lax Kw’alaams Band).

The biggest run-of-river project in BC is the Toba Montrose operation north of Powell River. Benefit agreements were reached with the Klahoose First Nation, the Tla’amin Nation, and the shíshálh (Sechelt).

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations on Vancouver Island built the Canoe Creek hydro project, which can produce enough electricity for almost 2,000 homes. ‘All of the electricity we generate is sold under a long-term contract to BC Hydro and is used here on Vancouver Island.’

The Hesquiaht First Nation built the the Ah’ta’apq Creek hydro project at Hot Springs Cove near Tofino. It went into operation in 2021, and soon saved the nation $375,000 in diesel bills.

Near Zeballos on Vancouver Island, the Ehattesaht First Nation owns 20% of a run-of-river generating station on Barr Creek. It has a 40-year contract to sell energy to BC Hydro — and in time Ehattesaht will be 100% owners.

More run-of-river projects are being considered, among them plans by the Uchucklesaht Tribe on Vancouver Island. But development in BC has been held up by BC Hydro’s recent reluctance to commit to long-term purchases of power from independent producers.


 A trail-blazer is the T’Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island. It installed solar power systems and solar hot water systems as early as 2009.

In the summer, the community sells surplus solar electricity to BC Hydro, and in the winter buys it back to reach zero consumption (and costs) over the whole year. Hydro bills have plummeted for community members.”

Then the T’Sou-ke added a solar-backed charging station for electric vehicles. (Not to mention three commercial greenhouses. And the T’Sou-ke have also explored the potential of power from wind and ocean waves.)

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation built Metro Vancouver’s biggest solar power project, which powers the nation’s administrative building in North Vancouver.

The Tŝilhqot’in National Government completed in 2020 a solar farm on two hectares of an old sawmill site on Tŝilhqot’in land, near Hanceville BC, southwest of Williams Lake. It creates enough power to serve some 135 homes. And it has a 25-year agreement to sell power to the BC Hydro grid.

The Westbank First Nation topped off renovation of its community school with 300 roof-mounted solar panels. That aimed to cut the school’s energy usage to 25% of its previous consumption.

The project had some funding from BC’s First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund, which helps First Nations participate in the clean-energy sector and reduce reliance on diesel power. The fund has helped more than 136 Indigenous communities with almost $19 million in capacity and equity funding.

And now we have heard how the Haíɫzaqv Nation in BC is working toward ‘energy sovereignty’ and decarbonization, introducing heat pumps, solar panels, and solar composting:


The first wind farm in BC was the Bear Mountain Wind Park near Dawson Creek, featuring 34 turbines. It began delivering power in 2009. Though we could find no details of Indigenous involvement then, there was some consultation with the West Moberly, and Saulteau Nations, the McLeod Lake Band, and the Kelly Lake Cree Nation (As’in’î’wa’chî Ni’yaw).

BC’s largest wind farm is the Meikle operation between Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge. Run by Pattern Energy, it has 61 turbines, which can produce enough power to serve some 54,000 homes.

It’s on Treaty 8 territory: Doig River First Nation, Halfway River First Nation, McLeod Lake Indian Band, Saulteau First Nations, and West Moberly First Nations. “The involvement and support of Indigenous Peoples . . . have been fundamental to the facility’s success.”

Then there’s the Cape Scott wind farm west of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. It started up in 2013 with 55 turbines, capable of producing power for 30,000 Vancouver Island homes. Some associated construction of roads and earthworks was done by the Kwakiutl, Quatsino, and Tlatlasikwala Nations.

In an earlier wind project in BC, Halfway River, West Moberly, Saulteau, and the McLeod Lake Band signed MOUs in 2009 for the 48-turbine Dokie Wind project, 40 km west of Chetwynd.

And last year, West Moberly First Nations opened the Zonnebeke wind farm, with four turbines near Chetwynd that can produce enough energy to power 5,800 homes. It was built with Natural Forces, an independent power producer based in Nova Scotia.

Zonnebeke was developed in tandem with the nearby Sukunka Energy Project, four turbines installed as a partnership between Saulteau First Nations and Natural Forces. Sukunka can also produce enough power for 5,800 homes.

And then there’s another long-proposed wind giant: Off the coast of Haida Gwaii in Hecate Strait, Northland Power proposes an offshore wind project that would harness “some of the world’s strongest and most consistent winds” to provide clean renewable energy.

The project has been on the agenda of potential investors — and the Haida Nation — since 2009. At that point, costs were estimated at $2 billion to install 110 turbines in Hecate Strait. That could provide enough power for Haida Gwaii, and, via BC Hydro’s grid, for something like 120,000 homes.


The West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations use biomass for their Twin Sisters Native Plants Nursery at Moberly Lake.

Up in Haida Gwaii, sawmill and forest waste heats community buildings: At Port Clements, the  multi-plex building, school, council chambers, fire hall and other municipal buildings. At Old Massett Village, biomass heats all the community buildings.


 The most recent project is an agreement among the Lax Kw’alaams, the Metlakatla, the City of Prince Rupert, and Pattern Energy, to explore the feasibility of a hydrogen facility on Watson Island — a plant that would be fully powered by wind energy.

Earlier, the Fort Nelson Nation  began working with Hydrogen Naturally Inc. on a feasibility study for a $1.2-billion plant that could produce up to one million tonnes a year of hydrogen. It would redevelop the old Canfor sawmill in Fort Nelson.

In Alberta, which has plentiful natural gas that can be processed into hydrogen, the Cree Nation will be a part of the proposed Edmonton hydrogen hub. Chief Billy Morin says: “To us, hydrogen represents a transition and an opportunity to build off the lessons learned on how First Nations were wronged in the past during the oil and gas era. Hydrogen represents a clean slate and First Nations are ready to participate.”

(And on the East Coast, the Miawpukek First Nation and an Australian company are looking at a hydrogen project. It would then add nitrogen, from the air, to the hydrogen to produce almost a million tonnes of green ammonia per year. The ammonia can then be shipped and used as is, or can be shipped and reconverted to hydrogen.)


Tu Deh-Kah Geothermal, owned by the Fort Nelson First Nation, is in the early stages of development in northeastern BC. First estimates are that it could produce enough electricity to power 14,000 homes. The Nation is also looking the potential for heat to produce agricultural products.

This geothermal energy is also behind the Liard Hot Springs near Fort Nelson. Thanks to BC being on the Pacific Ocean “Ring of Fire,” the area has substantial geothermal potential, and well over 100 exploration wells have been drilled.

BC Hydro has identified 16 prospective geothermal sites in BC, including ones near Pemberton, Valemount, Squamish and Prince Rupert. And the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association says: “British Columbia has enormous potential to produce geothermal power.  There is a sufficient potential to meet the entire province’s power demand.”

And look for some development in Yukon, too. The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation has an agreement with an Alberta-based company to tap geothermal potential beneath its land.

One of several solar arrays at the T’Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island

(Posted here 30 November 2022)

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