Saskatchewan First Nations Leading the Way in Renewable Energy

As regulations related to carbon emissions are introduced to Canada’s energy sectors, there are progressive and positive steps being taken in developing alternative sources of energy in this country. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering their fundamental belief systems tied to environmental respect and protection, First Nations business interests in Saskatchewan are forging important advancements in these emerging sectors.

One organization in particular is at the center of forming partnerships between government, industry and First Nations groups in the province. First Nations Power Authority (FNPA) is a First Nations-governed, not-for-profit development company that reduces costs and risks for First Nations-led energy projects. It’s the first organization of its kind to operate in North America. Guy Lonechild, FNPA’s Chief Executive Officer, describes the organization’s mandate as “supporting the development of Aboriginal-led business opportunities in the Canadian power sector. More specifically, this involves supporting off-takers sourcing renewable energy products like wind, solar, geothermal, and alternative sources such as waste heat recovery and flare gas to power generation for our general and industry members.” This role also extends to building knowledge, expertise, and wealth generation opportunities while diversifying our economy with Indigenous businesses and the energy sector.

FNPA began this journey in March 2011. The Province of Saskatchewan and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in advancing First Nations-led power generation projects in Saskatchewan. That agreement resulted in a 10-year Master Agreement being signed between SaskPower and FNPA. The Master Agreement is the protocol that guides the relationship between the parties to develop renewable and alternative energy projects to be sold back into Saskatchewan’s power grid. Currently, 20 megawatts are dedicated to solar development. Another 20 megawatts are designated for flare gas to power generation, with additional opportunities to develop wind power, biomass, or geothermal projects through FNPA. To put this in perspective, 20 megawatts of baseload power could be enough to power 20,000 homes from a resource that was otherwise wasted. A 20 MW flare gas to power project will also generate approximately $300 million in revenue over a 20-year period—while improving the environment.

Guy Lonechild sees these projects as a testing phase with SaskPower and a first step in laying the foundation for significant private investment in the energy sector for years to come. “This project also provides First Nations an avenue to lead energy diversification away from oil and gas development, lowering harmful emissions and creating wealth generation for the future of Saskatchewan,” says Lonechild. He is also excited about the platform FNPA has helped to build for First Nations presenting their business cases for solar microgrid development, smaller and medium scale renewable energy infrastructure needed for many rural, northern, and remote regions across Canada.

Albert Derocher, the Economic Development Officer at Flying Dust First Nation, echoes the same sentiments. He sees these projects as being in line with First Nations’ belief systems and therefore an approach that will bring many successes in communities across Saskatchewan. Derocher says, “…the beauty of these projects is that there’s so much opportunity for other First Nations and this is one of our proudest accomplishments.” He also points out the need to create successes with these initial projects because long-term goals are sky high. Derocher would like to see 400-500 megawatts of power being generated through renewable sources.

Flying Dust First Nation, located near Meadow Lake, has impressive business acumen. It operates several successful businesses including a holdings company, a gravel company, property management, an energy company, and a market garden. This business culture lent itself to the preparation of their flare gas retrieval project. “To get this project started we had to hire several different professionals. There was a gas expert, a financial expert with an MBA in oil and gas and several engineers developing the technical parameters,” says Derocher. They also partnered with Genalta Power, a company that has already completed similar flare gas projects across Alberta.

“Genalta Power is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with such a proactive group as the Flying Dust First Nation, on a project where Genalta will get to share its 10 years of experience in the industry while contributing to a better environment with a partner that really understands the need for cleaner electricity,” says Francois Castonguay, Director of Corporate Development and Finance at Genalta Power.

Flying Dust had developed a project partnership agreement with Crescent Point Energy, but with the drop in oil prices, this was unable to come to fruition. “As a small community with limited resources, our potential in developing these projects depends on the support from a larger entity and our community is grateful to SaskPower for being such a stakeholder,” explains Derocher. This is a win-win-win situation. Flying Dust First Nation gets to build on its economic successes, SaskPower gains a partner and expands on its promises to develop its power initiatives, and the province gets the environmental benefits of clean energy.

SaskPower has been involved with FNPA since its inception. Speaking with Wayne Rude, Senior Business Advisor, Indigenous Relations, he describes the partnership as, “the only business model of its kind in Canada, based on its design of bringing First Nations and industry partners together.” First Nations power producers use the FNPA as a main point of contact for power project proposals to enhance their viability due to location, technical issues, or timing. “The relationship with FNPA took things to a new level. It helped to create understanding amongst First Nations regarding the complexities of the electrical system and how their decision making could unfold within it,” explains Rude.

Even though FNPA is still a young organization, a great foundation has been established that provides a way for First Nations to approach SaskPower with viable projects. It saves time avoiding projects that lack potential and guides interested parties towards the sweet spots that SaskPower is interested in. FNPA has an effective governance model that is well described and well documented. “Guy Lonechild is everywhere. He covers so much ground as the leader of that organization. He really embraces it,” says Rude.

FNPA partnering with SaskPower represents a truly exciting and progressive step towards establishing renewable power projects in Saskatchewan. Projects that are set up in a meaningful and sustainable fashion will have long-term economic spin-offs for their communities. There is every hope that this partnership flourishes and more First Nations are able to reap the benefits of such projects and tap into the industrial strength of this province. As stated earlier, it’s a win-win-win scenario.