The role of indigenous people in the renewable energy landscape continues to grow

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A small section of solar panels at the Nanticoke Solar farm on August 29.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

On a sunny day last month, a group of about 30 people toured the Nanticoke Solar Facility, a 44-megawatt project built on the former site of what was Ontario’s largest coal-fired generating station before its decommissioning in 2013.

Beyond the symbolism of the solar panels on the shores of Lake Erie, at a site once dominated by two looming coal chimneys, the tour marked another shift: the growing role of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s renewable energy landscape.

Nanticoke Solar, in production since 2019, is a commercial partnership between Ontario Power Generation and Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp., which owns a 15% interest, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, which owns 5%. The solar facility is one of many Indigenous partnerships for OPG, which signed its first such agreement, for a hydroelectric facility, with the Lac Seul First Nation in 2009.

The tour group was coordinated through 20/20 Catalysts, a three-month program that connects industry mentors with First Nations, Inuit and Métis participants, with the goal of providing them with knowledge they can leverage renewable energy projects in their home communities or parlay into jobs or other opportunities in the energy sector.

The Nanticoke stop, which included flocks of sheep used for weed control, was part of the Ontario leg of this year’s Catalysts program. It also included site visits to Kelowna, British Columbia, and Iqaluit, Nunavut, and is run by Indigenous Clean Energy, an Ottawa-based nonprofit. Around 100 people have completed the program, which is currently fielding its sixth batch of participants.

Matt Jamieson is president and CEO of Six Nations of Grand River Development Corp., and he spoke with Catalyst attendees before they toured the Nanticoke facility. For him, such mentoring is as much a part of his job as crunching the numbers for new investments.

“If there’s an opportunity for us to show what we’ve done and give others an opportunity to learn, we’re all for it,” said Jamieson, who is a member of the Tuscarora Nation. .

This enthusiasm is in line with industry trends. Number of medium-to-large indigenous renewable energy projects increased nearly 30% from 2017 to 2020, 2020 study finds report by indigenous clean energy. With the push towards net zero targets, this momentum should increase.

Other factors are also pushing the needle toward Indigenous equity and participation, including Recommendation 92 of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The recommendation calls on Canadian businesses to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples as a “framework for reconciliation”.

The Six Nations Development Corporation is part of this evolving picture. Officially launched in 2015, it is a stand-alone corporation, designed to separate business from politics, with a mandate to generate revenue that the community can use for needs such as health care, education and infrastructure.

These needs are important. The infrastructure gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – what it would cost to bring services in line with those available in most municipalities – has been estimated at $30 billion. In Six Nations, estimates of the cost of connecting all households to a central water system range up to $200 million. (A new water treatment plant opened in 2014, but it is only connected to some buildings and homes in a central area; most households rely on water trucked to their home.)

Six Nations of the Grand River is the most populous First Nation in Canada, with approximately 30,000 members, 12,000 of whom live on a reserve that covers approximately 180 square kilometres.

This is only about 5% of the land granted to the Six Nations of the Grand River in the Haldimand Proclamation, an 18th century decree that set aside a tract of land for the Six Nations in recognition of their support of British forces during the war. American. Revolution. The area is the subject of multiple land claims and a lawsuit filed by the elected council of Six Nations against the governments of Canada and Ontario.

With these issues unresolved and potential settlements years away, the Six Nations development corporation has focused on short-term revenue generation.

It has stakes in a transmission line, wind and solar projects and a 50% stake in the Oneida Energy Storage Project, a 250 megawatt battery storage facility to store renewable energy so that it can be used when the demand for electricity increases. .

The group’s partner in the Oneida project is Toronto-based NRStor Inc., which has built several small energy storage projects and now wants to deploy the technology on a larger scale.

NRStor works with Indigenous partners from the start of any project, said Jason Rioux, Director of Development.

“It makes sense to us, it makes sense to our Indigenous partner, and I think it makes sense to set an example across Canada for other projects to come,” he said.

According to reports from the Six Nations Development Corporation, the group has generated more than $110 million in direct economic benefits for the Six Nations community since 2015.

Indigenous communities are also considering opportunities in the hydrogen sector. The Canadian and German governments in August signed a cooperation agreement on the export of hydrogen fuel to Europe, with a 2025 target to begin shipments from eastern Canada.

The Six Nations Development Corporation is discussing a potential green hydrogen partner, but the financial feasibility of such a project has yet to be confirmed, Jamieson said, adding that any new venture would need support. from the community.

“What we do as a development society is pursue a future that aligns with our values, to create something. So that our future generations can look back and say, “Wow, we didn’t have to wait for a court ruling.” We don’t have to wait for a transfer payment. We stepped up, asserted our interests, organized and conducted business, and did a good job. That’s really the goal. »

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