On Tuesday, the 6th day of January, 2015, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation issued a press release entitled “BC Clean Energy funding tops $5.8 million”. The press release lauds themselves for grants given to First Nations to develop clean energy projects.

What makes this press release curious is that just a few weeks ago, the BC Government basically gutted opportunities for new clean energy projects with the announcement that Site C Dam will proceed. BC estimates that Site C will provide BC with much of the energy the province needs.  This press release was like throwing a glass of cold water in the faces of First Nations who want to build projects but now cannot. Such an announcement further alienates First Nations that want an opportunity to develop clean energy.

The main opportunity that exists is BC Hydro’s Standing Offer Program for up to 45 MW per year which is available to ALL clean energy producers in the province. This means anywhere from 3-9 projects per year can be built that are under 15MW each.  Any planned larger projects like wind or biomass that require larger capacity to be economically feasible will not be developed in the foreseeable future.  You cannot sustain an entire industry on 45 MW per year of power production.

The Clean Energy Fund was established by the Clean Energy Act and was to help stimulate development of clean energy produced by First Nations.  It was an excellent initiative of the provincial government as it did help First Nations with financial assistance that they needed.  The only limitation of this fund was the $5 million it started with. More money was to be put into the fund from revenues created through land and water rates from new clean energy projects.

The province added another million dollars but this fund is now basically depleted. The idea was that the fund was to be self-sustaining based on revenue from new projects. Since there will be very few new projects adding money to fund, the BC Government will have to continually put in money if they want to sustain this fund.  But why would they put money into a fund that no longer meets the objective of creating clean energy projects on the scale it was intended for? This will also impact funds available from the federal government as well as they will not put money into clean energy in BC if there are very limited opportunities. 

You really wonder if the government really thought this through before they decided on Site C and ask why they would make such a decision when they knew how valuable this sector is for First Nations and the many benefits that have been realized to communities that have developed projects. Clearly First Nations are not their priority unless it is LNG.

In the press release they inform the public that in 2014 they gave out $600,000 to 8 First Nations and paid $248,000 in revenue sharing with 25 First Nations. The question one has to ask is how many of these 8 projects will be built. Competition to get into the standing offer program will be stiff as independent power producers struggle to stay alive within a diminished market.

The problem now with this fund is that gives false hope to First Nations who want to build projects and have no market to sell power to. 

The problem now is that First Nations have been relegated to smaller clean energy projects if they can get in the Standing Offer Program and are not able to be a larger player in an industry that was only opened up within the past years. 

Capacity building takes time and just as First Nations are geared up to fully participate in an industry, their feet are cut out from under them.

The Press release has the audacity to say:

 “B.C.’s clean energy sector is one of the fastest-growing industries in the province, with more than 200 organizations, 68% of which were formed in the past decade.”

They dare to say this after they have just stunted the growth of the fastest growing industry in this province. The Clean energy sector in BC will now stagnate. This may be an industry that does not survive the wait for the next call for power in BC.  Minister Bill Bennett and Jessica MacDonald, BC Hydro’s CEO say there will most likely be more opportunities in clean energy but they are very vague as to when and how much power will be needed. Not good enough to keep clean energy to be the fastest growing industry in BC.

 So puzzling why the “good news” story about something that now has very limited impact for First Nations. They may get the money and then not be able to build a project. Maybe the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation doesn’t communicate with the Ministry of Energy or maybe they just need a "good" news story. Bottom line is they must be living in a bubble as they are so insensitive to the blow they have wreaked on First Nations aspirations in clean energy and the clean energy fund has now been reduced from a major initiative to something minor.

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