"While First Nations do partner in energy projects, contracts are not awarded to us. First Nations need a proportional share of the contracts awarded," Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations told a recent meeting of the Ontario Energy Association in Toronto.
Fontaine says there is growing interest among First Nations groups in participating in the renewable energy sector. A number of communities are working with Ontario Power Generation to develop hydroelectric projects. Last year, 20 First Nations in southern Ontario and 15 in north-western Ontario joined to formed energy alliances in their regions. Their goal, says Fontaine, is to carve out a role for their communities in developing wind, solar, biomass and water power projects.
But to make that happen, says Fontaine, the province needs to help level the playing field. "In addition to seeking a reserved allocation of energy contracts, we are seeking the creation of a venture capital fund for First Nations energy projects or alternatively loan guarantees from Ontario to enable us to own a majority of the equity in each contract."
Fontaine says the Ontario Energy Board's (OEB) review of the province's 20-year integrated power system plan, which lays out C$60 billion in new generation and transmission investments that will be needed to meet the province's electricity demand in 2027, presents a unique opportunity for aboriginal participation in the energy sector that may not come again for decade. "There may not be another similar process for twenty years or more. The time for fundamental change is now. After all, all we are asking for is equality, to be equal. Nothing more, nothing less."
Approval of the plan, filed with the board at the end of August, is expected to take the better part of a year. But a lawyer for the Saugeen Ojibway Nations, whose territory lies in the heart of some on Ontario's best wind power resources, recently served notice to the OEB saying that his clients do not believe the province has lived up to its legal requirement to consult with them on the power plan's impact. "And that failure raises concerns that must now be the subject of consultations with government and the development of appropriate accommodation measures by government," Andrew Pape told the OEB.
According to Pape, the integrated power system plan "contemplates developments that would use their territory for dramatically increased energy production, both renewable energy production, based on wind power, and nuclear energy production, as well as for transmission infrastructure."
The issue of First Nations consultations has emerged in recent years in the wake of several Supreme Court of Canada decisions ruling that government has a "duty to consult" with First Nations groups about any infrastructure projects on land within their traditional territories that could be subject to a treaty right or land claim. Uncertainty over what exactly is required has already led to some delays for wind projects.