At the recent Independent Power Producers (IPP) of British Columbia (BC) annual conference, approximately 500 attendees participated in a range of presentations and discussions relevant to the growing private power generation industry in the province. One issue of interest to many was the proper consultation with the province’s aboriginal governments. Hundreds of different groups of native peoples, known as First Nations, live throughout BC, with most of them tracing their heritage back two to three thousand years.
Consultation is now legally required for any type of industrial development in First Nations’ traditional territory. This is a marked departure from the recent past, when resources were taken with little or no consultation. Now, power developers are learning to communicate and share the benefits of their proposed projects, and there have been some compelling examples.
Darryl Peters, chief of the Douglas First Nation in the Harrison Lake region, spoke at the conference, concerning his peoples’ relationship with Cloudworks Energy, a Vancouver-based run-of-river hydro company. The firm first approached the area’s indigenous communities in 1999, and started learning what ‘consultation’ really meant.
“Just because we’ve met, doesn’t mean its consultation. We need to reach an understanding of who you are,” said Chief Peters. Regular discussions with the community Elders is of primary importance in First Nations negotiation.
The partnership that resulted from all of those discussions today includes the construction and operation of six run-of-river hydro systems in the Harrison Lake area.
In the past, even though the Douglas communities had a major electrical transmission line running right by their territory, the people had to rely on diesel generators for electricity. That’s not the case anymore. “We can now flip the switch and feel secure in the knowledge that we have reliable electricity,” says Peters. “Our territory has never had this kind of opportunity to be connected.”
Being part owners of that power makes it all the better. The six projects generate a total of 150 megawatts (MW) from all six creek projects.
Judith Sayers of the Hupacasath First Nation also spoke at the IPP conference, first following the important protocol of verbally acknowledging the different Nations that traditionally occupied the Vancouver area. She shed some light on another important project for the First Nations.
China Creek is a shared-ownership project; the Hupacasath own 72.5%, and the remaining shares are divided between the power developer Synex Energy, the neighboring municipality of Port Alberni, and another First Nation. Accessing capital for the project was initially very difficult, but through a combination of pooled resources, a credit union loan, and capacity-building grants, the project was able to move forward. Receiving a BC Hydro purchase agreement cemented the deal. Power began flowing to the grid in December 2005.
China Creek has become the case study for First Nations renewable power development. Other indigenous groups, universities, government, industry, media and international visitors have viewed the project as an example of aboriginal economic development. The Hupacasath now have an additional contract with BC Hydro for the 6.5-MW Corrigan Creek project, which is scheduled to go online in 2009.
“These projects are not only bringing revenue, but pride, capacity, and hope, to a community that had absolutely nothing 10 years ago,” says Chief Sayers.
A similar comment reflects the position of the Klahoose First Nation on the Sunshine Coast. Recently, construction began on a 196-MW run-of-river power project, owned and developed by Plutonic Power Corp.
Klahoose First Nation Chief Ken Brown said, “We’ve spent the last twenty years managing poverty, and because of this power project, we’re going to spend the next twenty managing opportunity.”
The project’s powerhouse, transmission lines, and penstock are located on Klahoose traditional territory, and they have agreements in place to receive royalties, training and employment from the project.
Exceptions to stories like these still exist, such as the ongoing battle between Dutch-Shell and the Tahltan First Nations in the province’s Northwest region. Shell is making little progress in their attempt to extract coalbed-methane, due in part to their strong-arm approach towards local communities.
A meaningful long term relationship and respect for natural resources are keys to successful developments on First Nations’ land. And just as in any business arrangement, trust is vital.
Darryl Peters sums up the frame of reference within which to relate to the First Nations philosophy.
“There is a strong feeling to the land that we live in, and the overall sustenance that we have is very important. If a proposal is going to have an impact on the land, then you have to come to some sort of resolve in the forefront,” Peters said. “Otherwise you’ll encounter the many stumbling blocks that may come down the road.”
Randyn Seibold is a student, freelance writer and renewable energy entrepreneur. Living on British Columbia’s West Coast for the last 15 years, he is an active member of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and has worked for four years as an electrical apprentice. Renewable Recruits is a proprietorship focused on informing students about renewable energy training opportunities, and recruiting qualified people to RE developments in Western Canada.