First Nations communities trading dirty diesel for renewable energy

First Nations’ commitment to renewable energy is described in Growing Indigenous Power: A Review of Indigenous Involvement and Resources to further Renewable Energy Development across Canada  released in February 2018 by  TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative. The report highlights examples of renewable energy projects, describes the potential benefits for  communities,  and outlines supportive policies and programs in each province. In the section on workforce issues, the report states:  “Whether a community is partnering with a developer and/or hiring a construction firm for their own project, it is important to insist, in writing, on a certain number of employment positions. After working with a developer on a wind project, Millbrook and Eskasoni First Nations (Nova Scotia) developed a database of skilled community members and had them join the union, to address employment issues.” The report contains a unique bibliography of articles and reports from lesser-known Indigenous and local sources.

The National Observer publishes frequent updates on the issue of First Nations and renewable energy  in British Columbia, which they have compiled into a Special Report titled First Nations Forward. Highlights from the series include “First Nations powering up B.C.” (Dec. 2017), and most recently,  “In brighter news, a clean energy success story:   Skidegate on the way to becoming a “city of the future”   (April 9). Also in British Columbia, the Upper Nicola Band  in the southern Interior will vote in April on a proposal to build a solar farm project  which, if approved, will be 15 times larger than the current largest solar farm in British Columbia ( a converted mine site at Kimberley ) .  CBC profiled the proposed new project in March. DeSmog Canada also profiled the Upper Nicola Project, and in November 2017 published “This B.C. First Nation is harnessing small-scale hydro to get off diesel.”

How green energy is changing one Alberta First Nation”  in the Toronto Star (April 10)  profiles a solar project at Louis Bull First Nation, south of Edmonton. It  was initiated under the  Alberta Indigenous Solar Program , one of several provincial grant programs to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency amongst First Nations.  On  April 5, Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program was announced – a  3-phase program which the government claims will attract approximately $10 billion in new private investment.  By 2030, it is also expected to create about 7,000 jobs in a wide range of fields, including construction, electrical and mechanical engineering, project management, as well as jobs for IT specialists, field technicians, electricians and mechanics. Phase 2 will include a competition for renewable energy projects  which are at least 25% owned by First Nations.

On March 22, the Ontario government announced :  “The federal and Ontario governments are partnering with 22 First Nations to provide funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial power grid…..When complete in 2023, the Wataynikaneyap Power Grid Connection Project will be the largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned infrastructure project in Ontario history. It will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs.”  The Wataynikaneyap Power website offers a series of press releases that chronicle the years-long development of this initiative, in partnership with FortisOntario . The most recent press release on March 22 states that the goal is to establish “a viable transmission business to be eventually owned and operated 100% by First Nations. In addition to the significant savings associated with the avoided cost of diesel generation, the Project is estimated to create 769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socio-economic value.  These include lower greenhouse gas emissions (more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions are estimated to be avoided), as well as improved health of community members, and ongoing benefits from increased economic growth.”  Also of interest, a 2017 press release from FortisOntario : “Over $2 Million Announced For Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project First Nations Training Program .”

 

B.C. Auditor General reports on B.C. climate policies; B.C. Budget only begins to answer the concerns

B.C. Budget 2018  was released on February 20, highlighting a “made-in-BC child care plan, a comprehensive housing plan and record levels of capital investment.” An 8-page Highlights summary is here. The Budget was released just two days after the B.C. Auditor General’s report,  Managing Climate Change Risks: An Independent audit, which found it unlikely that British Columbia will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and is off track to meet its 2050 target. According to the Auditor General, the existing Climate Adaptation Strategy has not been updated since it was written in 2010, leaving the province without clear priorities, timelines or assignment of responsibilities.  In addition, the Auditor General states that B.C. is not prepared for climate risks such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.  A summary of the Auditor General’s report appeared in The Tyee on February 20.

How will the Budget help to meet the shortcomings of the climate change file?  The Pembina Institute states “B.C. budget = good news for families, businesses, and climate” , giving credit for investments in wildfire preparedness, energy-efficient social housing, and carbon-tax rebates for lower income households, yet calling for a clearer “road map” for energy and low carbon targets. (The Highlights document says that the government will invest a further $72 million in community resilience and recovery, and rural development, to help survivors of the 2017 wildfire season). The Tyee also highlighted the need for more vision and ambition in “NDP Told to Step Up Game on the Environment” (Feb. 22).   The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) describes the proposals for new incentives for large industrial emitters in “BC budget unveils support for industry to prevent ‘carbon leakage’”  . The David Suzuki Foundation response commends investments in transit, but criticizes the failure to extend the carbon tax to include methane gas. And DeSmog blog notes the absence of discussion in Budget 2018 of the single largest publicly funded project in the province – the Site C Dam.

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline ignites a trade war between Alberta and British Columbia

trudeau-notley-20161129Pipeline politics have ignited a trade war between the governments of Alberta and British Columbia – both led by NDP Premiers  – with the Prime Minister clearly siding with Alberta and the construction of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, as recently as February 1 .  The latest episode in the longstanding interprovincial feud was triggered on January 30,  when the B.C. government announced the formation of an independent scientific advisory panel to determine whether diluted bitumen can be effectively cleaned up after being spilled in water, and  “Until that committee reports, the government will impose a regulation prohibiting any expansion, either by pipeline or rail, of heavy oil sands crude.”  Details are in “B.C. announces oil transportation restrictions that could affect Kinder Morgan”  in the National Observer (Jan. 30); “B.C.’s Action on Bitumen Spills ‘Finds Kinder Morgan’s Achilles’ Heel’ (Feb. 5).

Alberta’s reaction was strong. First, in what Toronto’s Globe and Mail described as a “spat” on February 1:  “Alberta suspends electricity talks with B.C. over pipeline fight“. In a few days, The Energy Mix wrote ” Sour Grapes: Alberta to stop importing B.C. wine over Kinder Morgan feud” (Feb. 6) and  “Alberta Declares Boycott of B.C. Wine in Escalating Kinder Morgan Dispute” (Feb. 7 ) . CBC News reports reveal the escalating emotions: “The Alberta vs. B.C. pipeline fight. Now it’s war.” (Feb. 3) and “Weaponizing wine: Notley’s engineering a federal crisis in her battle with B.C.” and  “Oil, water and wine: “Escalating Alberta-B.C. feud threatens future of Trans Mountain pipeline” (Feb. 7); DeSmog Canada wrote “This might get Nasty: Why the Kinder Morgan standoff between Alberta and B.C. is a Zero-Sum Game” (Feb. 2). On February 9, Alberta’s Premier announced “a task force of prominent Canadians to respond to B.C.’s unconstitutional attack on the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the jobs that go with it”. The Market Access Task Force is loaded with government representatives and oil industry executives.

If you only have time to read one article about this dispute, read the analysis of Alberta’s Parkland Institute, in Let’s share actual facts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The three claims being made by the Alberta government are: 1. the  pipeline would generate $18.5 billion for “roads, schools, and hospitals”;  2.  it would create 15,000 jobs during construction, and 3. it would create 37,000 jobs per year. With deep expertise in the oil and gas industry, Parkland explains how these numbers were derived and why they are mostly outdated and selective.

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Protests against Kinder Morgan will continue in B.C., with the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation  calling for a mass demonstration on Burnaby Mountain in March. – see the CBC summary here.

Stepping back,  see Andrea Harden-Donahue‘s January 24  blog for the Council of Canadians, “#StopKM: State of Resistance” , which details past resistance and demonstrations against KM,  and states that “the Pull Together campaign recently reached the fundraising target of $625,000 towards Indigenous legal challenges.” For a view of the legal issues and lawsuits (including First Nations’) in this longstanding fight, see a West Coast Environmental Law blog published on January 17, before this war erupted: “Whose (pipe)line is it anyway? Adventures in jurisdictional wonderland “.

 

Site C Hydro Dam will go ahead after historic decision by B.C.’s NDP Premier

site-c-project-location-mapBringing an end to years of controversy, in what NDP Premier Horgan called a “very, very divisive issue”, the British Columbia government announced on December 11 that it will proceed with construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam , on the grounds that it is too late to turn back.  In a press release  which blames “megaproject mismanagement by the previous government”, the government justifies its decision by saying that  cancellation would result in  “ an immediate and unavoidable $4-billion bill – with nothing in return – resulting in rate hikes or reduced funds for schools, hospitals and important infrastructure.”  The press release continues with a list of sweeteners for the opponents of the project, announcing that improved project management to keep costs to $10.7 billion; new community benefits programs to keep jobs in local communities and  increase the number of apprentices and First Nations workers hired; a new BC Food Security Fund to help farmers whose land will be negatively affected; and the promise of a new alternative energy strategy for B.C. .

The National Observer provides a brief overview of reaction in “As costs escalate, Horgan says it’s too late to stop Site C mega-project” . CBC News covers the debate and the decision in several articles, including “ John Horgan disappoints both Site C opponents and supporters in northeast B.C.”   and “B.C. government to go ahead with Site C hydroelectric dam project ” which examines the huge political fallout and  states that the Green Party , which holds the balance of power in B.C.’s legislature,  will not  force an election over the issue, despite their opposition to the decision.

Reaction on labour issues :  For mainstream union reaction to the decision, see “Site C: What Happens Next?”  in The Tyee (Dec. 11)  .  The complex labour politics of Site C is summarized in “ Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” , which appeared earlier in The Tyee,  (Nov. 24) , and takes a deep dive into the ties between the NDP government and  the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the  Site C project.  Following the decision, the  Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) stated their “relief” for the go-ahead decision, with the reservation that “Arbitrarily setting apprentice and other workforce ratios will limit contractor flexibility and inevitably drive up costs and slow the construction schedule.”   Similar sentiments appear in the press release from the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) , which represents the majority of Site C workers  under the Open Shop system in place since 2015.

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Photo by Yvonne Tupper, from CBC News

Re the First Nations opposition: “‘A reconciliation fail’: B.C. First Nations promise court action over NDP’s approval of Site C”   at CBC News (Dec. 12), quotes First Nations leaders, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nations, who have already announced that they will apply for a court injunction to halt construction of the project and begin a civil action for Treaty infringement.

A sampling of reaction of environmentalists appears in “Site C a betrayal of First Nations, Ratepayers and Future Generations” (Dec. 11) and in multiple articles at DeSmog Canada https://www.desmog.ca/  . A glimpse of the environmental campaign appears at the Stop Site C website , and the  Wilderness Committee, a member of that campaign, reacts here .

Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgIn his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

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B.C. Premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announce their coalition in June 2017

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .