Ownership key in wind projects: huge benefits to First Nation communities.First Nation lands in Northern Ontario are hot commodities for wind energy project developers. And these projects can be very beneficial to communities, especially if cooperatively owned instead of handed over to private companies.
The M'Chigeeng First Nation, on Manitoulin Island is in the early stages of development on their community owned 10-megawtt wind farm known as Mother Earth Renewable Energy (MERE).
The facility is planned for Billings Township and is expected to serve the community's power needs.
"We have been working on the project for a few years," said Chief Isadora Bebamash.
"It is still in the development phase," she said, explaining they are a couple of years from reaching the construction phase.
"A number of wind energy studies and environmental studies have been completed," Bebamash said.
"But more needs to be done."
The MERE project is a M'Chigeeng First Nation business owned by the community, Bebamash said.
Although it is far too early to know how much, she said, "It's anticipated (MERE) will be added revenue for the First Nation."
MERE should employ a limited amount of people once fully operational, Bebamash said. "But during the construction it should hopefully employ more people."
The MERE project, the first on the M'Chigeeng First Nation is earning support, Bebamash said.
"We have had a number of community meetings and there is support for the project."
William Big Bull has been in the green energy business for more than 20 years. He is currently working on a 10-megawatt wind farm on Walpole Island First Nation near Wallaceburg.
The leader and gauge in wind energy projects on First Nation lands should be the communities, said Big Bull the president of Big Bull's Energy Consulting.
"The people with the traditional knowledge know where the best locations are," he said, adding that with a lack of historical data more research needs to be done.
"And the leaders of our First Nation communities need to lead this research."
With what's on Ontario's economic radar, Big Bull said "this is probably the best time.. for First Nations to be in the industry.
"We have to capitalize on it, but we have to capitalize on it collectively ... one that recognizes different geographical locations and restrictions, and one that has the technical expertise to give them the best advice."
The more First Nations are involved in the industry the larger their profile gets and the more capable, they become of taking the lead in green energy initiatives.
"With every project the resource base grows, experience and technological approaches expand," Big Bull said.
"And the First Nations can become the leader of this industry"
Renewable energy projects have many benefits for communities, First Nation or otherwise, said Justin Rangooni, Ontario policy manager for the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).
"There are three obvious one's.," he said.
The first is jobs.
"The construction, operation, maintenance and administration of a wind farm all create jobs," Rangooni said.
"Every installed megawatt creates five jobs."
There are also tax revenue benefits for the municipalities, he explained. "Royalties go back to the land owner, First Nation or community developing or working with a developer to create the project."
And there is always the possibility of tourism revenue from the wind farm, he added.
"At a minimum the First Nation pr community is guaranteed a substantial tax revenue benefit," Rangooni said.
A good example, he said, is the Summerview Wind Farm in Pincher Creek, Alta.
Summerview has an installed capacity of 68.4 megawatt, produces 209 gigawatt an hour per year - enough to support 24,000 homes. And the 38-turbine wind farm employed 18 person-years during development and construction, creating seven full-time jobs for operation and maintenance.
"The Pincher Creek wind farm contributes $3 million in tax revenue to the local community," Rangooni said.
But there is a big difference in benefits to the community when the project is privately or publicly owned, said .Roberto Garcia, marketing and membership services manager, Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA).
The OSEA works with their members, while trying to attract new ones, to teach communities and investors how to finance wind energy projects from a community perspective, Garcia said.
"With ownership comes the majority of the profits and community benefits," he said. "But if privately developed the municipality gets some tax revenue, that's it."
The really idea behind the Green Energy Act, here and what will truly bring economic growth to Ontario, Garcia said, "is if we can create a market for green energy we can attract manufacturers to Ontario."
By JAMES NEELEY
Northern Ontario Business