How do Benefits from Site C vs. Renewable Energy Projects Compare for First Nations

We hear from the BC government that many benefits will flow to the First Nations during the construction and operation of the Site C Dam. They use these benefits as a way of rationalizing destroying large tracts of First Nations territories, their rights and important sites. 

Payments for compensation/accommodation to First Nations are not yet agreed to, so the total cost of Site C cannot be determined. There are 7 First Nations that are in the reservoir area and 3 that are in the immediate downstream area, and of course many others that will be impacted by reduced water flows into the Northwest Territories that have not been consulted. 

The question is, what benefit would First Nations get with Site C versus what benefits they would if they developed renewable/clean energy projects, not just in the Site C area, but all over BC?  Some of the benefits are as follows:

DEVELOPING VIABLE BUSINESSES

First Nations developing a renewable energy project whether it is run of river, solar, wind, biomass, brings with it a whole set of skills that can be learned, or added to experiences of First Nations.  This includes expertise in building a project from start to finish and adds skills in negotiating any agreements with partners and proponents.

Site C does not allow First Nations to be part of the business with BC Hydro (unlike Manitoba and Saskatchewan) so the only skills gained are improved are negotiating skills and taking advantage of any procurement opportunities that are negotiated.

CREATING CAPACITY

When a First Nation develops a project, they will incorporate a company that will have a board of Directors. The board oversees the project, makes policy and decision on how the project will run.  This board experience will train members who need it and add experience for those that have sat on boards before.

Capacity building will also be done with members who will work on planning, developing, project management, construction and operations including financial oversight.  All of the skills learned by members will provide expertise to build further projects.  Members will be trained in many areas so that they can operate the renewable energy project. 

Site C does not provide for any board training.  At BC Hydro there is only one position filled by a First Nation person. While BC Hydro may bring First Nations people into the operations of the dam, it is not the same intense training a member would get in operating for example a run of the river project.  Construction jobs are limited to the term of the build. The agreement with Hydro usually says they will employ people, but never specifies that it will be in management or other meaningful employment. There is no expertise being built for the next project as we know that Site C is the last large dam that can be build in BC. 

DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS

 It is amazing how many relationships a First Nation has to build when they decide to develop a renewable energy project.  Relationships with any potential partners, government agencies that will licenses aspects of the project, financial institutions and other sources of funding, other First Nations/experts who have built similar projects, and with suppliers. 

With Site C, First Nations will be developing a relationship with BC Hydro and any contractors who may be getting contracts from BC Hydro to get jobs for their members.  It is not the same types or degree of relationships used when building their own project. 

 BEING PART OF THE SOLUTION

 First Nations want to be part of the solution in reducing of GHG emissions and ensuring the sustainability of Mother Earth. Renewable energy projects prevent the flooding of a large part of land and environmental degradation. They also bring regional independence of the energy supply that First Nations can provide.

Site C will increase the power to BC, but at what cost to First Nations, other communities and the environment? BC says they want to provide power at a low cost to the ratepayer but will affect the financial credit rating of the province when such debt can be taken on by developers of renewable energy.

 COMMUNITY PRIDE

 Nothing can replace the pride of a First Nation that has developed a sustainable project that is within their values and brings revenue and jobs as well.  Being part of a competitive market within their environmental standards is important to them. 

Site C brings no pride, in fact, it brings anger and resent that the province/BC Hydro would not listen to the First Nations to stop a project that will affect their way of life for decades and can never be restored.  BC government and First Nations will become adversaries as First Nations go to court to stop the project.

 COMPENSATION/ACCOMMODATION

 In a study commissioned by Clean Energy BC in 2013, a typical 25 MW hydro project from the 2008 Power call, a First Nation with 20% equity position (paid with its own cash) had total Income of $950,000 per year with 75-85 construction jobs. This would be over the life of a project with a minimum of 40 years. 

As stated above, the compensation/accommodation package has not been negotiated with impacted First Nations.  Since we don’t know what the compensation will be, we can look to what other First Nations have settled. These agreements are for historic grievances for past, present and future impacts of the dams.

The Kwadacha and Tsay Keh Dene were dealing with 40 years of impacts of the Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir.

The Kwadacha (around 450 people) settled for 15 million and $1.6 million per year,

Tsay Key Dene (around 450 people) settled for $21 million and $2.1 million per year (had to move community) Interestingly despite the big dams, there is no power to their community and have to rely on modular generation stations.

The St’at’imc agreement was concluded for 10 First Nations with approximately 6500 members.  Their impacts were for 60 years and included effects from 3 dams, 2 reservoirs, 4 generating stations, 15 transmission circuits totaling ~850 kms of transmission lines, 160 kms of access roads and 4 recreation facilities Bridge River Dam

Their settlement was for $210 million.  They were not given a yearly sum as by this time the Province/BC Hydro were not wanting to do any more revenue sharing.  I am not sure how this negotiated into the final figure.  Revenue sharing was set as a precedent in the agreements with Kwadacha and Tsay Keh Dene but not St’at’imc. Will be interesting to see if the Treaty 8 will be offered revenue sharing.

What did these First Nations lose over the building of these large dams on their lands? Loss of the Village for Tsay Keh Dene.  Loss of  lands and resources within their territories, Loss of burial, sacred, archaeological, heritage and cultural sites of significance, Loss of rights for hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering which includes destruction of wildlife habitat and hunting/fishing grounds/trap lines. Loss of trails and access to river that includes loss of travel corridors. Loss of traditional economies.  There have been huge physical changes to the landscape.  Members have had to switch from traditional to non-traditional food sources because of fear of contaminants in the plants, fish and wildlife.

One can assume that the province will be using these past agreements as a template for the First Nations impacted by Site C.  Then add in what First Nations will be negotiating for and the Financial Benefits can be calculated. Accommodation should not be a template but based on what each First Nation will lose if Site C proceeds.  It is very difficult to put a value on loss of burial sites, sacred sites, loss of huge tracts of land that supported many rights. Any financial package will never make up for such a great loss. 

CONCLUSIONS

Benefits from the Site C dam will likely be comprised of a financial settlement that will not reflect the immense loss each First Nation affected will feel isn’t sufficient. It will also have elements of employment and procurement opportunities. 

Benefits from renewable energy projects will be the building of sustainable businesses within the values of the First Nations impacted, capacity being built in developing projects, members being trained to construct and operate these projects, revenues created from their own project, managing resources within their own territories and setting the environmental standards.  Community pride and economic independence cannot be measured in monetary value.

The kinds of benefits that can be derived from First Nations developing and operating their own renewable energy projects far outweigh the benefits from Site C. The skills that are built are business capacity and skills in a way that First Nations need for economic independence and not just a lump sum of money.

First Nations developing their own renewable energy projects provides opportunities and capacity building in ways that BC Hydro’s Site C dam cannot rival in the same way.

 The biggest advantage if Site C were not to proceed is that it provides opportunities to First Nations all over BC that really want to develop projects but cannot do so because of lack of opportunity under BC Hydro’s Integrated Resource Plan. The government would be wise to not proceed with Site C and instead, allow First Nations the opportunities they promised them in the New Relationship and the Clean Energy Act to develop renewable energy. 

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