First Nations, Renewable Energy, and the benefits of community-owned energy projects

“These are exciting times in British Columbia for those interested in building sustainable, just and climate-friendly energy systems.” So begins the October 12 featured commentary, “BC First Nations are poised to lead the renewable energy transition”, published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a research project led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC and Saskatchewan Offices) and Parkland Institute. The commentary summarizes the results of a survey conducted for the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group  by academics at the University of Victoria , published in April 2017 . The survey reveals that 98% of First Nations respondents were either interested in, or already participating in a renewable energy projects – 78 operational projects, 48 in the planning or construction phase, and 250 further projects under consideration in B.C. alone.  The responses reveal a growing interest in solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass and micro-hydro projects under development—compared to already-operational projects, 61% of which are run-of-river hydroelectricity. Survey respondents identified three primary barriers to their involvement in renewable energy projects: limited opportunities to sell power to the grid via BC Hydro – (mostly because of the proposed Site C hydro project), difficulties obtaining financing, and a lack of community readiness.

Although the discussion focuses specifically on B.C.’s  First Nations, the article holds up the model of community-level energy projects beyond First Nations : “Instead of proceeding with Site C, BC has an opportunity to produce what new power will be needed through a model of energy system development that takes advantage of emerging cost effective technologies and public ownership at a community scale. Doing so would enable an energy system that can be scaled up incrementally as demand projections increase. It would also ensure the benefits energy projects are channelled to communities impacted by their development, and help respond to past injustices of energy development in our province….Choosing this path would result in a more distributed energy system, more resilient and empowered communities, a more diverse economy and a more just path towards climate change mitigation.”

CBC reported on another survey of First Nations – this one at a national level –  in “Indigenous communities embracing clean energy, creating thousands of jobs” ( October 11). The article focuses on First Nations renewable energy projects on a commercial scale, stating: “nearly one fifth of the country’s power is provided by facilities fully or partly owned and run by Indigenous communities”. The article links to case studies and numerous previous articles on the topic, but focuses on the job creation impacts of clean energy: “15,300 direct jobs for Indigenous workers who have earned $842 million in employment income in the last eight years.”

The CBC article summarizes a survey conducted by Lumos Energy , a consultancy which specializes in energy solutions, especially renewable energy, “for First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and communities”. Lumos Energy  leads the Indigenous Clean Energy Network ; its principal, Chris Henderson, has written the book Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples (2013).

The future of wind energy in Alberta

wind-energy-alberta

From CanWEA website, showing the state of Alberta’s wind market as of 2017

The Province of Alberta is reinventing its energy supply with its Renewable Electricity Program, which targets 30% of the province’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. To take stock of the province’s existing strengths, as well as gaps and opportunities related to that goal, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) commissioned the Delphi Group to study the existing resources, including workforce skills, to support the growth of the wind industry. The resulting report,  Alberta Wind Energy Supply Chain Study , concludes that if wind energy were to meet 90 per cent of the government’s commitment, it would result in an estimated $8.3 billion of investment in new wind energy projects in the province and almost 15,000 job years of employment by 2030.  Many of the skills and occupations required to develop wind projects – such as engineering, construction, operations and maintenance – are transferable from the oil and gas sector. CanWEA is urging the government to provide a long-term renewable energy procurement policy which would encourage investment .

The report is summarized by the Energy Mix, by the National Observer , and in a CanWEA press release.  CanWEA also provides current profiles of provincial wind markets – Alberta’s is here .  CanWEA’s annual conference was held in Montreal from October 3 to 5; the closing press release is here.

The National Observer story features the wind turbine technician program at Lethbridge Community College, and states that in January 2017, a third of the students who entered the College’s wind turbine technician program came from careers in the oil industry.

Proposals for a green transition that is just and inclusive in Ontario

decent_work_in_the_green_economy-coverDecent Work in the Green Economy, released on October 11 , combines research on green transitions worldwide with the reality of  labour market trends in Ontario, and includes economic modelling of  Ontario’s cap and trade program, conducted by EnviroEconomics and Navius Research.  The resulting analysis identifies which sectors are expected to grow strongly under a green transition (e.g. utilities and waste management and remediation),  which will see lower growth (e.g. petroleum refining and petrochemical production), and which will see a transformation of skills requirements (e.g. mining, manufacturing, and  forestry). Section 3 of the report discusses the impacts on job quality (including wages, benefits, unionization, and job permanence), as well as skills requirements.  The general discussion in Section 3 is supplemented by two detailed Appendices about the employment impacts by economic sector,  and by disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups (which includes racialized workers, Indigenous people, workers with disabilities, newcomers, women, and rural Ontarians.) A final  Appendix describes the modelling behind the analysis, which projects employment impacts of low carbon technologies by 2030.

The paper calls for a comprehensive Just Transition Strategy for Ontario, and proposes  six core elements illustrated by case study “success stories”.   These case studies include the Solar City Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (which uses local supply chains and accounted for local employment impacts), and the UK Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy (which incorporated diversity goals and explicit targets in workforce development and retraining initiatives).  An important element of the recommended Just Transition Strategy includes a dedicated Green Transitions Fund, to transfer funding for targeted programs to communities facing disproportionate job loss; to universities or colleges to provide specialized academic programs; to social enterprise or service providers to carry out re-training programs; to directly impacted companies to invest in their employees; and to individuals in transition (much like EI payments).

The authors also call for better data collection to measure and monitor the link between green economy policies and employment outcomes, and better mechanisms for regular, ongoing dialogue.  This call for ongoing dialogue seems intended to provide a role for workers (and unions, though they are less often mentioned). The authors state: “No effort to ensure decent work in the green economy will be successful without meaningfully engaging workers who are directly impacted by the transition, to understand where and how they might need support. Just as important will be the ongoing engagement with employers and industry to understand the changing employment landscape, and how workers can best prepare for it.” And, on page 39,  “Public policy will be a key driver in ensuring that this transition is just and equitable. …. Everyone has a role to play in this transition. Governments, employers, workers, unions and non-profit organizations alike must remember that if we fail to ensure that the green transition is just and inclusive, we will have missed a vital opportunity to address today’s most pressing challenges. But if we design policies and programs that facilitate this transition with decent work in mind, they have the potential to benefit all Ontarians.”

Decent Work in the Green Economy was published by the  Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, in cooperation with the Smart Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa.  In addition to economic modelling, the analysis and policy discussion is based on an extensive literature review as well as expert interviews and input from government, industry, labour and social justice representatives. Part of the purpose of the report is to initiate discussion “between those actively supporting the transition to a green economy and those advocating for decent work” as defined by the ILO.  Further, the report states: “ Importantly, this conversation must address the need for equal opportunities among historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups who currently face barriers to accessing decent work.”

Activists celebrate as the Energy East Pipeline is cancelled

energy east mapOn October 5, TransCanada Pipelines issued a press release , announcing that it would no longer proceed with the proposed Energy East pipeline and Eastern Mainline projects.  Accordingly, the National Energy Board Hearing Process has been closed, although documents remain on its website.  Below is some of the reaction that has poured forth, including: “TransCanada terminates Energy East pipeline” and  “Disappointment and delight mark the end of Energy East Pipeline”  in the National Observer (Oct. 5); “Climate Hawks celebrate as TransCanada abandons Energy East pipeline” from Energy Mix.   The Council of Canadians had conducted a 5-year campaign against Energy East: their reactions and those of their allies appear in “WIN! Energy East tar sands pipeline defeated!”  ;  “Voices from the Energy East Resistance”  (Oct. 6)  and “Diverse Groups Opposed to Energy East Celebrate Project’s Cancellation” .  The common message is exemplified by Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake on behalf of the 150 First Nations and Tribes who have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, who is quoted as saying: “Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win …. “So that’s two tar sands expanding mega-pipelines stopped in their tracks but it will be a hollow victory if either Kinder Morgan, Line 3 or Keystone XL are allowed to steamroll over Indigenous opposition and serve as an outlet for even more climate-killing tar sands production.”  (and for more on that, read “Energy East cancellation resonates for opponents of Trans Mountain expansion in B.C.”  in the National Observer.

Commentators trying to explain TransCanada’s decision focus on three principle reasons: the economics of falling oil prices, regional political forces, or the regulatory burden of pipeline approvals in Canada (especially since the Energy East review was  required to account for upstream and downstream emissions).  From the Globe and Mail, an editorial:  “The death of Energy East was a Business Decision – Swimming in Politics” , which attributes the decision to  Quebec opposition to Energy East, and the likely go-ahead of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S.  The Editorial states: “Mr. Trump appears to have solved most of the Canadian oil industry’s pipeline shortage, making Energy East no longer economically necessary. The American President…. has also temporarily solved one of the Trudeau government’s, and Canada’s, most challenging political problems.” For a view of the political dimensions within Canada, read  “Energy East pipeline is dead, fallout in Alberta will be measurable” in Rabble (Oct. 6) . Finally, three overviews of the issues:”Regulations alone didn’t sink the Energy East pipeline” by Warren Mabee,Queen’s University and ACW Co-Investigator in The Conversation (Oct. 15);  “Five Things you need to know about the Cancellation of the Energy East Oilsands Pipeline” from DeSmog Canada, and “Energy East’s cause of death: Business, politics or climate?“, from CBC News, which describes the regional differences via reaction from Canadian provincial premiers.

 

Nova Scotia introduces Cap-and-Trade legislation

A press release on September 29  announced that the Nova Scotia government has introduced amendments to the Environment Act, enabling regulations to set caps on GHG emissions, distribute and enable trading of emission allowances within the province, and set a province-wide greenhouse gas emission target for 2030.  The province will create a Green Fund to support climate change initiatives and innovations, and  money from emissions sales and fines will be deposited there.  Next steps include “developing greenhouse gas reporting regulations this fall and consulting with stakeholders on them”.

The amending legislation, Bill 15, received first Reading in the Legislature on September 29 as a means to satisfy the requirement of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.   However, reaction from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax urges the federal government to reject the plan, stating that “A carbon pricing system that doesn’t actually put a price on carbon, support low-income people, or incentivize clean growth truly misses the point.” The EAC also warns of the risks of extreme volatility since the plan is structured to create a carbon market within Nova Scotia alone – covering a population of under a million people and about 20 businesses.   The Ecology Action website has compiled documents and submissions from the provincial consultations leading up to this announcement. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia Office published a Backgrounder in May 2017 which outlines its proposals for a  stronger cap-and-trade policy.