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 .”

 

Labour activists raising environmental justice issues in Canada’s climate change policy

ourtimes cover-Chris JawaraThe featured article in the Winter 2018 issue of Our Times is  “A Green Economy for All” , which describes the action-research project Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective.   The ultimate goal: to equip Black trade unionists and racialized activists in Canada with the tools they need to influence the public policy debate over climate change, to ensure that the new green economy does not look the same as the old white economy.   With important inspiration from the Idle No More movement and the Indigenous experience in Canada, the project began with research into what has already been written about environmental racism in Canada, along with  a participatory social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW,  to solicit more information about lived experience.  The project has now reached its second phase, designing and facilitating workshops to develop activism around the issue.  The first of these workshops  was presented to the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) in December 2017.  Facilitation questions, case studies and workshop information will be made publicly available, with the goal of engaging other social and political activists, as well as the labour movement.

The Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities  project was launched in 2017 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project at York University,  in collaboration with Coalition of Black Trade Unionists , and is being led by Chris Wilson, Ontario Regional Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and  PSAC Ontario union negotiator Jawara Gairey.

“A Green Economy for All”  also mentions the work of the Toronto Environmental Alliance , which produced a map of toxic concentrations in the city in 2005, and the forthcoming book  There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities,  which highlights the grassroots resistance against environmental racism in Nova Scotia, and is written by Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University  and  Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (The ENRICH Project).

 

National Energy Board is a casualty of Canada’s new legislation for environmental assessment

On February 8, following 14 months of consultation and review, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change introduced the mammoth Bill C-69 An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts  . The government press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada highlights these talking points about the proposed legislation-  It will:  Restore public trust through increased public participation; Included transparent, science-based decisions; Achieve more comprehensive impact assessments by expanding the types of impacts studied to include health, social and economic impacts, as well as impacts on Indigenous Peoples, over the long-term. Also, it promises  “One project, one review” – through a new Impact Assessment Agency, (replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) which will be the lead agency, working with a new Canadian Energy Regulator (replacing the National Energy Board), as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Offshore Boards.  Further, it will make decisions timely; Revise the project list; Protect water, fish and navigation ; and Increase funding.  The detailed government  explanation of the changes  is here ; other summaries appeared in the National Observer in “ McKenna unveils massive plan to overhaul Harper environmental regime”  ; “Ottawa to scrap National Energy Board, overhaul environmental assessment process for major projects”   in CBC News; and in the reaction by The Council of Canadians, which expresses reservations about the protection of navigable waters, and these “Quick Observations”:
“1- the current industry-friendly Calgary-based National Energy Board would be replaced by a proposed Calgary-based (and likely industry-friendly) Canadian Energy Regulator
2- it includes the ‘one project, one review’ principle as demanded by industry
3- assessments of major projects must be completed within two years, a ‘predictable timeline’ also demanded by industry
4- the bill notes the ‘traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada’ but does not include the words ‘free, prior and informed consent’, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
5- McKenna said that no current projects (including the Kinder Morgan pipeline which crosses more than 1,300 water courses) would be sent back to ‘the starting line’
6- the government is seeking to implement the law by mid-2019.”

An overview of other reaction appears in   “New Federal Environmental Assessment Law Earns Praise from Climate Hawks, Cautious Acceptance from Fossils” from the Energy Mix.  Reaction from West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) is here ; and from  Environmental Defence here .  The Canadian Environmental Law Association sees some forward progress but warns that “the Impact Assessment Act is marred by a number of serious flaws that must be fixed in the coming months.”    Reaction from the Pembina Institute says “Today’s legislation improves the federal assessment process by centralizing authority for impact assessment under a single agency; providing a broader set of criteria for assessing projects including impacts to social and health outcomes; and removing the limitations on public participation that were put in place in 2012…. Building on today’s legislation, we would like to see progress towards the establishment of an independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to ensure that project reviews include Paris Agreement-compliant supply and demand scenarios for coal, oil and gas.”

Companion legislation, also the product of the lengthy Environmental Regulation Review, was introduced on February 6, Bill C-68 An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence  (Press release is here ; there is also a Backgrounder comparing the old and new legislation). Most importantly, Bill C-68 restores a stronger protection of fish and fish habitat – the HADD provision – to the definition used before the 2012 amendments by the Harper government. (HADD = the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat).  Reaction is generally very favourable:   The David Suzuki Foundation says : “The most important changes we were looking for are part of these amendments” and West Coast Environmental Law says that the proposed legislation   “meets the mark”.  Reaction is also favourable from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax . And from the Alberta Environmental Law Centre, some background in “Back to what we once HADD: Fisheries Act Amendments are Introduced” .

no consentAnd finally, where does the new environmental assessment process leave Canada’s Indigenous people?  The new legislation includes the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Committee and requires that an expert on Indigenous rights be included on the board of  the new Canadian Energy Regulator body, according to a CBC report, “Indigenous rights question remains in Ottawa’s planned environmental assessment overhaul” . Minister McKenna is also quoted as saying the government will “try really hard” to conform to the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples   – a statement that is not satisfactory to some Indigenous leaders.    See “Indigenous consultation and environmental assessments” (Feb. 7)  in Policy Options for a discussion of the issue of “free, prior and informed consent”.  On February 7, Private member’s Bill C-262, an Act to Harmonize Canada’s Laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed 2nd reading in the House of Commons.

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 new British Columbia government tackles climate change policy and controversies: Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Carbon Tax neutrality

As the smoke from over 100  forest fires enveloped British Columbia during the summer of 2017, a new brand of climate change and environmental policy emerged after June 29, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) government assumed power , thanks to a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party Caucus.  Premier John Horgan appointed Vancouver-area MLA George Heyman, a former executive director of Sierra Club B.C. and president of the B.C. Government Employees and Service Employees’ Union, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, with a mandate letter which directed Heyman to, among other priorities, re-establish a Climate Leadership team,  set a new 2030 GHG reduction target, expand and increase the existing carbon tax, and “employ every tool available to defend B.C.’s interests in the face of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”  A separate mandate letter to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, directed the Minister to create a roadmap for the province’s energy future, to consider all Liquified Natural Gas proposals in light of the impact on climate change goals, to freeze hydro rates and to  “immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the B.C. Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market.” In addition, the government “will be fully adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Some notes on each of these priorities:

Re the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan The recommendations of the B.C. Climate Leadership Team were ignored by the Liberal government when delivered in 2016.  In mid-September 2017, the reasons for that became clear, as reported by the National Observer , DeSmog Canada, Rabble.ca and Energy Mix . According to the National Observer,  “provincial officials travelled to Calgary to hold five rounds of secret meetings over three months in the boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Representatives from Alberta-based oil giants Encana and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) are shown on the list of participants meeting with B.C.’s ministry of natural gas development.”  In the article for DeSmog Canada, Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker state that the Climate Leadership process was a stunning example of institutional corruption: “what can only now be characterized as a pretend consultation process was acted out publicly….  The whole charade also represents an abuse of the climate leadership team’s time and a mockery of B.C.’s claims to leadership during the Paris climate talks, not to mention a tremendous waste of public resources.”  The documents underlying the revelations were obtained under Freedom of Information requests by Corporate Mapping Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Shannon Daub is Associate Director.

Re the  Carbon Tax:  The Budget Update released on September 11 states: “The Province will act to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the carbon tax rate on April 1, 2018 by $5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, while increasing the climate action tax credit to support low and middle income families. The requirement for the carbon tax to be revenue-neutral is eliminated so carbon tax revenues can support families and fund green initiatives that help us address our climate action commitments.” For context, see “B.C. overturns carbon tax revenue-neutrality”  (Sept. 22) by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions;  for reaction, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. or the Pembina Institute .

Re the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline:  On October 2, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal  is scheduled to start the longest hearing in its history, for the consolidated challenges to the National Energy Board and Federal Cabinet approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project.  The government has applied for intervenor status, and in August  hired environmental lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice  Thomas Berger as an external legal advisor on the matter.  West Coast Environmental Law blogged, “See you in court, Kinder Morgan” , which provides a thorough summary of the 17 cases against the TransMountain expansion; WCEL has also published a Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from Kinder Morgan, which goes into the legal arguments in more detail.  The NEB website provides all official regulatory documents. Ecojustice is also involved in the complex court challenge.

Re the Site C Dam:  In early August, the B.C. government announced a review of the Site C project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.  The Preliminary Inquiry Report was released on September 20,  calling for more information before passing judgement on whether BC Hydro should complete the project. The Inquiry Panel also finds “a reasonable estimate of the cost to terminate the project and remediate the site” would be $1.1 billion, based on the figures provided by BC Hydro and Deloitte consultants. The Inquiry report is  summarized by  CBC . Next steps:  a series of round-the-province hearings and final recommendations to government to be released in a final report on November 1.

After years of protests about Site C, evidence against it seems to be piling up. A series of reports from the University of British Columbia Program on Water Governance, begun in 2016, have addressed the range of issues involved in the controversial project : First Nations issues; environmental impacts; regulatory process; greenhouse gas emissions; and economics.  In April, an overview summary of these reports appeared  in Policy Options as  “Site C: It’s not too late to hit Pause”,  stating that Site C is “neither the greenest nor the cheapest option, and makes a mockery of Indigenous Rights in the process.”   On the issue of Indigenous Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for a halt on construction in August, pending a full review of how Site C will affects Indigenous land.

If Site C is a good project, it’s time for Trudeau to trot out the evidence” in  iPolitics (Sept. 17), calls Site C “an acid test for Trudeau’s promise of evidence-based policy” and an environmental and economic disaster in the making.  The iPolitics article summarizes the findings of a submission to the BC Utilities Commission review by Robert McCullough, who concluded that BC Hydro electricity demand forecasts overestimate demand by 30%, that its cost overruns on the project will likely hit $1.7 to $4.3 billion, and that wind and geothermal are cleaner alternatives to the project. McCullough’s conclusions were partly based on his review of the technical report by Deloitte LLP, commissioned by the Inquiry.