By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
Indigenous communities leading Canada’s clean energy boomCanadian Contractor Project Management
March 21, 2023, Saskatchewan – In Saskatchewan, Cowessess’ $21-million Awasis solar project connects to Saskatchewan’s electricity grid and is capable of powering 2,500 homes annually, on average. Over its 35-year estimated life, the solar farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 350,000 tonnes: in total, equivalent to the emissions of over 70,000 gas-powered cars driven for one year.
The Awasis solar farm is also an example of many Indigenous-led clean energy projects blossoming right now from coast to coast.
A 2020 report by the national not-for-profit organization Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise identified 197 medium-to-large renewable energy-generating projects with Indigenous involvement, either in operation or in the final stages of planning and construction.
While the group’s 2023 data has not yet been released publicly, executive director Chris Henderson said many additional projects have come online in the last two-and-a-half years _ everything from solar and wind to hydro to geothermal.
In fact, he said Indigenous communities are so heavily involved in clean energy that they now own, co-own, or have a defined financial benefit agreement in place for almost 20 per cent of Canada’s electricity generating infrastructure.
Private companies have been partnering with Indigenous communities on energy infrastructure projects for decades. But early agreements typically involved guaranteeing construction jobs or other financial benefits for the community and fell short of offering Indigenous people a full equity stake.
That’s changing, however. Canada’s commitment to net-zero comes at a time when the federal government has also committed to reconciliation with Indigenous people, a commitment that includes the recognition of Indigenous people’s right to economic self-determination.
Indigenous communities are also asserting that right, increasingly seeking to get involved in clean energy projects as full owners. Cowessess, for example, owns 95 per cent of the Awasis solar project with the opportunity to become full owners after five years.
Henderson said Canada’s energy and electricity sectors have historically been dominated by large oil and gas companies, large utilities, and governments.
“But new technology allows for more diversification of ownership,” he said. ”Moving to a clean energy future requires us to decolonize the energy system.”
There is significant federal funding support available for Indigenous-led clean energy projects. The Awasis solar project on Cowessess received $18.5 million from the federal government.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2023.