The Lake Cowichan First Nation is one of three First Nations communities on Vancouver Island and the central coast that are benefiting from a provincial program that supports clean energy projects and feasibility studies.
The B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund, which was launched by the provincial government in 2010, provides funding for research or engagement with private sector clean energy proponents. Earlier this month, the government announced it will provide LCFN with $30,000 to prepare an energy plan looking into the community’s current energy efficiency and the possibility of new hydro and solar options.
Aaron Hamilton, LCFN operations manager, said the community has wanted to do an assessment of its renewable energy options for a while, they were just waiting for a way to finance such an initiative.
“It’s always been on our radar,” he said. “It was just a matter of timing and funding. The two came together and we were able to get an assessment done now.”
He said the community will use this money to create a “sustainable energy development portfolio within our nation’s traditional territory,” which will enable them to have long-term, economically sustainable development projects. Such projects would enable LCFN to provide its own sources of income — income that can then be reinvested in the community, reducing dependence on public sector funding.
“We want to focus on greener technologies and opportunities for any of the developments we go into. And look at protecting the interest of our future generations,” he said.
Some of the projects the LCFN is currently working on include possible housing developments and a waterfront cafe on North Shore Road. The $30,000 will go towards studying ways to make these projects more environmentally friendly.
The funding will also cover an assessment of renewable energy possibilities in the area such as solar, wind and micro hydroelectric technology.
Micro hydro is a term to describe small-scale hydroelectric projects that typically rely on the natural flow of water and produce between five and 100 kilowatts of electricity. The LCFN’s feasibility study will look at whether small rivers and streams around the lake could be used to generate power.
“These are preliminary assessments,” said Hamilton. “I don’t know if we’ll have enough volume on some of these streams year-round to allow something like that to happen. But we’re going to assess it.”
Hamilton emphasized this is still very early stages of investigation and concept work. He said if any renewable energy options are deemed to be feasible, LCFN will prioritize them for further exploration and additional feasibility studies.
The studies are being carried out by Nanaimo consulting firm the Barkley Project Group, and will be completed by the end of March 2017.
Funds from the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund will also highlight energy efficiency measures community members can incorporate in their existing homes. The LCFN will also draft an energy policy for any future development in their territory.
The community is not working in partnership with the Town of Lake Cowichan or the Cowichan Valley Regional District, but Hamilton said LCFN freely shares information with both of its neighbouring jurisdictions.
“We’re pretty much an open book,” he said.
The other First Nations communities to receive funds include the Ditidaht First Nation, which received $10,000 for a study on the proposed Little Nitinat River Hydropower Project, and the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation, which is receiving $40,000 for a study and some equipment related to hydro project in its territory on the central coast.
In a press release, John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said the funding is “ensuring First Nations can participate in B.C.’s clean energy sector as they look to improve environmental sustainability and create new economic opportunities within their traditional territories.”
Since 2010, the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund contributed more than $8 million to 110 First Nations communities in the province.