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Industry says First Nations key partner in developing renewables

Dec 02, 2013

Ontario energy sector thought leaders gathered to discuss aboriginal perspectives on power at a panel session on Nov. 19, during the 25th annual Canadian Power Conference and Trade Show.

Speakers on the panel had diverse backgrounds and roles within the energy sector, and spoke on a range of topics. Joe Heil, Director of First Nations and Metis Relations at Ontario Power Generation (OPG), spoke about his organization’s aboriginal relations program. 

“Having an effective aboriginal relations program is seen as table stakes for resource development in Canada,” said Heil. “Of the 132 reserves in Ontario, 99 of them have been impacted by generation or transmission projects.” He pointed to OPG’s Lower Mattagami hydro electric project as an example of how industry can work with bands to ensure they see the economic benefits of development.  

The Moose Cree have a 25 percent equity stake in this project, valued at $2.6 billion, with a planned output of 438 megawatts (MW). OPG gives hiring preference to aboriginal workers, and supports them through an extensive training program to bring them up to OPG’s standards which are recognized as being among the highest in the industry. Training includes courses in life skills, obtaining a GED, followed by skills training in areas like welding, carpentry and crane operation. To date, $280 million in contracts for the project have gone to aboriginal businesses and suppliers. 

Director of Renewables at Brant Renewable Energy (BRE), Brooke Emerson, reviewed her organization’s accomplishments and ongoing projects. When Ontario issued its green energy challenge in 2009, Brant County took it seriously. It partnered with Six Nations of Grand River, one of the largest bands in the country with 24,000 members, in order to turn the region into a globally recognized green hub. 

BRE has developed over 100 microFIT projects so far, and 1.3 MW in smallFIT projects scheduled to come online in 2014. These projects help move BRE towards its long term goal – repurposing sites like brownfields and closed landfills. It is working with Six Nations to encourage all companies located in the new Brant 403 business park to support green energy by installing solar. First Nations do most of the installations for solar projects, and BRE works collaboratively with the band as a joint management team. 

The session highlighted the various ways developers, industry and regulators are working with aboriginals to help move renewable power generation projects forward. Future projects will need to provide economic and social benefits to their aboriginal partners in the form of equity, training and jobs in order to succeed.

Artwork above: "Accept One Another" by Blake Debassige via Ontario Sustainable Energy Association