Mi’kmaq Experiment with Green Energy

The Nova Scotia  Mi’kmaq Energy & Innovation Summit 2016 illustrated both how far the Province of Nova Scotia has come in the pursuit of green energy, and how far it has yet to go.

Held at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre on September 26 and 27, the summit was hosted by Beaubassin Mi’kmaq Wind, a company owned by Nova Scotia’s 13 Mi’kmaq Band Councils — Acadia, Annapolis Valley, Bear River, Eskasoni, Glooscap, Membertou, Millbrook, Paqtnke, Pictou Landing, Potlotek, Sipekne’katik, Wagmatcook and Waycobah.

Sons (and Daughter) of Membertou honor song

Sons (and Daughter) of Membertou opening the summit  (l to r): Austin Christmas, Shaylene Johnson, “Special Guest Star” Nathan Sack and Darrell Bernard.

The purpose of the summit was to “celebrate Mi’kmaq Nation success creating innovative community economic development projects,” according to a quote in the program from Beaubassin vice president Steve Parsons. “Innovative” didn’t necessarily mean “green,” but between the projects showcased and the presenters participating in the summit (Marine Renewables Canada, EfficiencyOne, Natural Forces Wind Inc), the event tilted strongly in that direction.

In his opening remarks on Monday, Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA Derek Mombourquette reminded attendees that Nova Scotia has already met the federal government’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 2005 levels, well before the 2030 deadline. That’s undoubtedly a good thing, but while the use of renewable energy, like wind power, has helped the province meet that target, Nova Scotia’s sputtering economy has also been a factor.

And even as we pat ourselves on the back for cutting emissions, we’re planning to re-open a coal mine (a project Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq stand to benefit from),  our experiment with biomass is stressing our forests and we haven’t stopped dreaming about petroleum — “The Present and Future of Petroleum Development in Atlantic Canada” figured on the summit agenda for Tuesday.

Our complicated relationship with renewables is perhaps best exemplified by one of three “community energy and innovation” projects showcased on Monday, that of the Glooscap First Nation, “a tiny community doing big things” near Windsor, N.S. According to presenter Amanda Peters, CEO of Glooscap Ventures, the band is in the process of installing solar panels on the roof of its new…gas bar.

On the one hand, how you can begrudge a small Mi’kmaq band (Glooscap has a population of 360 people, 90 of whom live on reserve) a shot at prosperity?

On the other hand, solar panels on a gas bar?

Fortunately, that’s not all Glooscap Ventures is up to — they also run Glooscap Seafood, they’re developing a nature trail around Glooscap Landing (the site of the gas bar) and they’re looking into “how to make a sustainable profit” from green energy, particularly solar.



Big Wind

Chief Paul Gloade of Millbrook First Nation devoted most of his time on stage to denouncing the protestors who had tried to block the band’s Colchester County wind farm on noise and health grounds, leaving the actual description of the project to Millbrook’s director of commercial operations, Terry French. (I squirmed a bit, because my personal complicated relationship with renewables dictates that I love the idea of wind energy but wouldn’t want to live anywhere near a turbine. Fortunately, I was not called upon to confess this out loud.)

Terry French, director of commercial operations, Millbrook First Nations

Terry French, director of commercial operations, Millbrook First Nation

Millbrook Community Wind consists of three turbines “co-located” with a two-turbine wind project, Truro Heights Community Wind, which is majority owned by Eskasoni First Nation. (Gloade said he had encouraged Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny to build in Colchester County with them rather than battling protestors on his own land.) The five turbines have a combined capacity of 10 megawatts.

Millbrook’s wind farm, the first Mi’kmaq project in Nova Scotia under the government’s community feed-in-tariff (COMFIT) program, was undertaken in conjunction with Germany’s juwi Wind and Canada’s Firelight Infrastructure Partners.

French explained that the five, 330-foot turbines are most efficient when the wind is in the 25-40 kilometer range, that they shut down if the winds get higher than 60-70 km and that all but one have warning lights for aircraft on top, which French said has resulted in innumerable calls from concerned citizens warning them one of the lights has gone out.


Potlotek Schools Community in Solar Energy

The third project showcased was easy to love: Potlotek, a Cape Breton Mi’kmaq community with a population of 710 people (close to 600 on reserve) installed photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of its school.

Joshua Rivera Nicholas, Potlotek First Nation.

Joshua Rivera Nicholas, Potlotek First Nation.

The 13 kW system is grid-tied and a “great way to teach children and the community about renewables,” according to Joshua Rivera Nicholas. Nicholas was one of 36 Mi’kmaq trained, as part of a 2014 Efficiency Nova Scotia pilot program, to install energy-efficient lighting, electric hot water tank and pipe wrap, low-flow showerheads and other upgrades in First Nations homes. He spoke with enthusiasm of the program during his brief presentation.

Nicholas said Nova Scotia Power is doing a five-year study to determine the actual cost of the power produced by Potlotek’s solar panels. In the meantime, work is underway on a syllabus for educating the children inside the school about renewable energy and Nicholas said they are particularly encouraged by the possibility of putting panels on homes, as a system like that employed at the school should be able to meet a household’s electricity needs.







Featured image: Amanda Peters, CEO of Glooscap Ventures, addresses NS Mi’kmaq Energy & Innovation Summit 2016.


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