Green power and Aboriginal economic development in BC appear to be converging, writes Managing Director Pieter van Gils from the Independent Power Producer conference held in Vancouver in late October.
More than 550 attendants focused on the new call for power that will be issued by BC Hydro in November. BC Hydro will commission 5,000 gigawatt hours per year—as many as 50 to 100 new micro-hydro and wind projects will be built and become operational in the next five years.
Independent Power Producers (IPPs) listened to BC Hydro executives and technical staff as they discussed the overall outlook for energy policy and the specifications for this coming bid. Many also gathered at two sessions where they listened to First Nation leaders. All IPPs must fulfill the Crown's obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations. Getting that crucial step wrong can delay or kill a project.
Getting that crucial step right is not easy. Leaders from the Douglas, Namgis, Taku River Tlingit, Gitsxan and Hupacasath First Nations each relayed their interpretations of consultation and of the desired outcomes of accommodation. As they each took the podium, describing their communities and often throwing in some of their Aboriginal languages, it became evident that these distinct cultures will demand time to be understood by IPPs. These First Nations also made it clear that they desire to pursue maximum ownership in projects that are built in their traditional territories.
Consultation and accommodation are simply one of the costs of doing business in BC. IPP executives know that. And many in this young industry understand it's more than just a cost. Independent power production in BC has come to life after the Gitxan, the Haida and the Taku River Tlingit First Nations brought cases to the Supreme Court that spelled out what the obligations of the crown and its licensees are. Here is a chance for an industry sector to set a new tone, to make accommodation meaningful.
The industry's unique characteristics—advance sales of its products to BC Hydro for up to 40 years and sourcing wind and water from remote regions—allow First Nations to become partners in these projects with a clear idea of what the next decades of that partnership will look like. First Nations' ownership in IPP projects represents a revenue stream they can build economies with.
Clean power and new economic opportunities for First Nations. The IPP industry is in a position to demonstrate that there is a convergence of goals borne out of the abundance of resources and cultures in this province. Listening to First Nation and industry leaders at this conference, I am optimistic we will see that convergence become reality.