Expect to work with first nations if you want to develop an independent power project in British Columbia, private energy developers heard on Tuesday.

Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, October 29, 2008, click here for original article.

Developers must recognize they’re bearing most of the weight of Supreme Court of Canada judgments requiring consultation with first nations regarding resource development on traditional territories, delegates to the annual conference of Independent Power Producers association of B.C. (IPPBC) heard.

That consultation must include opportunities for local aboriginals to benefit from the projects as a form of reconciliation arising from 150 years of resource-use conflicts in the near-total absence of treaties in B.C.

"As a project proponent. . . you really do have to appreciate that you are in the centre of participating in reconciliation," said lawyer Caroline Findlay, a partner with Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

She said IPPs must demonstrate to lenders that they’ve struck an accord with first nations, or risk being turned down.

"Think ahead about what your lender wants. We all know one of the first questions in a project is the lender will ask, ‘Do you have a deal with first nations?’"

Some first nations are actual rivals for projects, rather than junior partners looking for economic, social and employment benefits.

Hupacaseth Chief Judith Sayers said that when the senior debt is paid off on loans arranged for the first nation’s run of river power project at China Creek, it will bring in more money than they receive each year from Indian Affairs.

The Alberni Valley first nation is looking to develop four more projects in its territory.

Sayers said British Columbia’s drive for energy self-sufficiency, in light of global concerns about climate change, means opportunities for green power projects are rapidly expanding in B.C.

She is delighted that first nations are involved in that process.

"The environment has become the topic of conversation and even better than that, is the role of first nations," Sayers said.

"If you can actually sit down and work out a good deal with first nations it brings certainty to your project."

Pieter van Gils, managing director for Ecotrust Canada Capital, said the non-profit lending agency hasn’t had a default in 10 years of loaning money to first nations for community business enterprises.

"These communities make sure that these ventures survive because they are incredibly important to them. They provide employment, they provide capacity, they provide connections to markets, and they will support these companies even when the companies are having a hard time," van Gils said.

"There is a strength there that you won’t find when you deal with a company."

Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith, representing 3,800 aboriginals in communities from Campbell River to Port Hardy on the east coast of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland area, said the council has established a streamlined one-window approach for negotiating business development.

Fishing and forestry are the traditional resource opportunities but they cannot sustain the communities as they have in the past, and the opportunities for stable revenue from electricity sales is an attractive alternative, he said.

"You come to our office. . . and we start that discussion right from day one," Smith said.

He said proponents can expect to be asked "Are you willing to work with our communities? How is your project going to make my community a better place to live, tomorrow?"

"And if they can’t answer those questions, we are not going to work with them. It’s as simple as that."