Powering Up: SaskPower and First Nations Power Authority Collaborating on Renewable Energy

FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild and SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh. Photo by Michael Dubois.
FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild and SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh. Photo by Michael Dubois.

On May 31, 2019, SaskPower and First Nations Power Authority (FNPA) signed a First Nations Opportunity Agreement setting up the continuation of their collaboration on developing renewable energy initiatives in Saskatchewan. The new agreement lays out conditions for developing 20 megawatts (MW) of new utility-scale solar generation projects.1 The agreement is worth an estimated $85 million over the next 20 years. Last year, the two organizations signed a similar agreement for 20MW of flare gas generation worth $300 million, also over 20 years.

Chief Michael Starr, Chief Byron Bitternose. FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild and Chief Cadmus Delorme. Photo by Michael Dubois.

Chief Michael Starr, Chief Byron Bitternose. FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild and Chief Cadmus Delorme. Photo by Michael Dubois.

Wayne Rude, Senior Business Advisor at SaskPower in Indigenous Relations, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, highlighted important aspects of this developing relationship with FNPA. To begin, Rude points out an important recognition SaskPower received in September 2017, obtaining the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Gold Status as recognized by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.2 Receiving this certification reflects SaskPower’s strong commitment to building and developing their relationship with Saskatchewan’s Indigenous people. The PAR certifications assess applicants on their performance in four key areas: leadership actions, business development, employment, and community relations. There are only 17 companies in Canada with this gold certification.3

Indigenous procurement originated for SaskPower back when they began major projects in Saskatchewan’s far north in 2011. “At the time, we didn’t have the right corporate policy and tools to try to advance those initiatives. SaskPower did a lot of work inside the company and through our corporate governance to advance policy and measures on Indigenous procurement,” says Rude. Much work and development happened from 2011-2013, and they were able to advance Indigenous procurement to the point where it became part of SaskPower’s corporate balanced scorecard. It’s now considered a key measurement of the corporation’s performance that is reported on quarterly and annually.

FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild. Photo by Michael Dubois.

FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild. Photo by Michael Dubois.

The origins of procurement came when SaskPower was evaluating a hydro project with the Black Lake First Nation in northern Saskatchewan. “We were also building a major transmission line through northern Saskatchewan and we needed local support, so we had to come up with policy that allowed us to consider even single-sourcing contracts to Indigenous companies in the area. It was all really kick-started by a couple major projects,” says Rude. Fast forward to today, and SaskPower completed more $200 million in Indigenous procurement since 2014 with opportunity more broadly spread throughout the province.

In the fiscal 2018/2019 year, SaskPower did just shy of $50 million in Indigenous procurement. They are seeing a broadening in the participation beyond just capital investment into streams of operations, maintenance, and administration. “Indigenous companies and Indigenous leadership in Saskatchewan are very keenly interested in economic participation with SaskPower and we try to find ways to make that happen while still keeping an eye to quality, cost, and contract performance. We need to be diligent in keeping this story moving forward,” says Rude.

FNPA began its journey back on March 29, 2011 with the Province of Saskatchewan, SaskPower and the FNPA signing a Memorandum of Understanding for advancing First Nations-led power generation projects in Saskatchewan. The result was a 10-year Master Agreement being signed in June 2012 between SaskPower and FNPA that has led to some very impressive renewable energy projects that have benefitted Indigenous communities and businesses in Saskatchewan. Guy Lonechild, FNPA’s CEO, says that “gratitude is the new attitude at FNPA.” Lonechild is happy to express his appreciation for the relationship with SaskPower and considering the traction and momentum delivering their set-aside agreement of 20 MW of solar and 20 MW of flare gas, he is positive that the two parties will be moving forward on signing a new Master Agreement that will continue this successful partnership.

FNPA is a one-of-a-kind, non-profit entity in North America. Its book of business began humbly with 40 MW of set-aside. “Our 2016 Set-Aside Agreement is further supported by First Nations Opportunity Agreements being offered for 20 MW of solar and 20 MW of flare gas. The flare gas project has been granted an extension of eight months by SaskPower and that submission will be due in February. We should see the formal project submissions for the two solar projects being submitted very soon,” says Lonechild.  There are two 10 MW solar projects in the final stages of project submission. One is on-reserve, located on Cowessess First Nation near Regina and the other is with George Gordon and Starblanket at an off-reserve location near Weyburn.

Recently announced amendments to federal regulations and putting a price on carbon emissions from coal and natural gas-fired plants are designed to accelerate the phase out of both coal and natural gas-fired electricity generation in Saskatchewan. This represents a significant challenge for SaskPower but also an opportunity for FNPA as they are looking to develop large-scale wind, solar and battery storage projects. A current project, the Centennial Wind Power Facility outside of Swift Current, is a 150 MW project that Lonechild would like to see expanded to 250 MW. FNPA wants to see if they can collaborate with one of their industry partners to expand and eventually re-develop the project that began in 2006. And given that there has been record low prices from wind projects under Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program (REP), this fact presents a great opportunity for new wind projects where Saskatchewan rate payers, SaskPower, and First Nations to realize the benefits of the newest renewable energy technologies.

More than energy production though, FNPA is working towards bringing people together in what Lonechild describes as “challenging times” in Indigenous relations. “So, one of the next things we’re talking about doing is bringing more people under the tent in Saskatchewan.  I know that First Nations, rural municipalities, and northern communities have expressed a greater interest in working together,” says Lonechild. FNPA is keenly interested in working with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) and Métis communities to partner with First Nations in Saskatchewan.

Developing new opportunity agreements are important for the future of Saskatchewan. First Nations Power Authority creates a progressive, responsible and sustainable approach to transitioning our energy sector to include renewables and low-carbon generation options. The economic and social benefits of renewable energy investment is not only good for Saskatchewan Indigenous communities but for the province as a whole.

In the future, this partnership is bound to reap many rewards for the province. Grant Ring, Vice President of Supply Chain at SaskPower, states “SaskPower supports strong Indigenous participation in our supply chain. We are proud to have created mechanisms to ensure this participation while providing economic opportunity for Saskatchewan Indigenous business and communities. Continuing to strengthen and build on these mutually beneficial relationships will be tremendously important as we move toward a sustainable, renewable power grid.”

FNPA is excited about what the future brings. Their relationship with SaskPower will grow many meaningful partnerships and lasting rewards for the province. FNPA realizes that power generation is big business and Saskatchewan is blessed to be in a position to capitalize on its vast amount of natural resources. Whether it is solar and battery storage, flare gas to power, biomass development or generating power off waste heat from compressor stations along the TransCanada pipeline, these are real opportunities for our province.

1SaskPower and First Nations Power Authority sign 20-megawatt Solar Opportunity Agreement,
2,3 SaskPower Receives Gold Certification for Progressive Aboriginal Relations,