Perspectives: Diana Campbell, Lead researcher for More Than WindBy: Suzanne Rent
In each issue, Earth Resources interviews a leader in Atlantic Canadaís energy industry. For this issue, we spoke with Diana Campbell, who researched and authored More than Wind: Evaluating Renewable Energy Opportunities for First Nations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
How did you come to research and write this report?
Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APC) had approached me in 2009 and they were doing this Atlantic Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Research Program (AAEDIRP). I really felt that we needed to start thinking about renewable energy in our communities and that there wasnít enough information. The project took me eights months to do. The reception was overwhelming.
Then as the months progressed, after I would do presentations, people would come back to me and say, ďEver since you did your presentation, I am noticing all these things.Ē If you can get people to think about it, they will start to pay attention. I looked at what could be feasible for our communities beyond wind, because it seems like we are running into a lot of problems with wind when it gets to the environmental assessment or the community participation phase. I think if people had more access to education and you had the community involved right from the beginning, you might not run into some of these issues.
A lot of our communities, unfortunately, and the Department of Indian Affairs, are never thinking proactively. Itís always reactively, but they have to change that because our populations are growing.
Did you meet any communities that were really innovative?
You have to be innovative. What I also try to get people to understand is that it takes a long time. Millbrook, they were just recently approved for six megawatts, so obviously that was in development for quite some time. Thatís really proactive. Membertou has put in an application for six megawatts. They also have this partnership with GrupoGuascor. They are looking more at business development. So thatís really proactive, but thatís been in the works for a long time. There is a group in the Gaspe, they have got involved with all the wind development in the Gaspe Peninsula, which is huge. They got all the wind developers to agree to do partnerships with them, and they are doing a lot of education and training. Thatís really progressive.
Donít you think thatís positive that these groups have been thinking ahead now for a number of years? They seem to be the early adopters.
I guess the part of it I find interesting is how thatís not communicated. You find out that Millbrook got six megawatts. But we didnít hear about that before. I wonder, as I do this research, why the communities donít share their information more. And itís not just communities; itís industry. They are really private about what they are doing. I wonder if they are protecting their business development or whatís the reason. Membertou seems to be more forthcoming with their information.
Do you think there is a way to solve that? Create a network where that information can be shared?
One of my recommendations in More than Wind is that we need to have these energy forums, to bring our communities in with industry, government and education. You need to go Atlantic wide at the minimum. If you were just to focus on Nova Scotia, there are only 13 communities. If you went Atlantic wide, youíd get 36 communities. It just had more impact, more bang for the buck. I think youíd get more interest from industry if you do that.
Do you think this is a good way to solve not only the energy issue, but as you mentioned, the education issue, and itís an economic issues?
Itís getting people to think of it that way, though. Getting a community to understand if you save money in energy costs, it means you keep that money. Youíll get comments that the challenge is that people are on social assistance and not paying their own energy bills. If youíre not even seeing your electricity bill, you have no concept of what itís costing. How do you get people aware? You do it through education or some kind of incentive program, contests, profiling people who save the most energy. Think about how those savings over 20 years might pay for a renewable energy project. Think about the payback period.
How do you think First Nations might set an example to other small communities that might want to develop their own energy projects?
I donít think thereís a difference between small rural communities and First Nations communities. They are all the same. The municipalities might be more ahead in their thinking because they have more opportunities to work with incentives. Some of these small communities think ĎHow can we get organized? What can we do.í One of the things communities really have to think about are community-owned projects. Itís an investment in the long term. But then communities think they are too poor. But individual community members may have money and maybe they are interested in investing.
Is there a fear of change that holds communities back?
I donít think itís that. Itís that the leadership in the communities is so caught up in just that day-to-day demand. One of the things you see about the success of Millbrook and Membertou, is that they are thinking ahead. They built relationships with banks. They formed partnerships. And theyíve got strategic plans and community plans. If you have a community focused on day-to-day survival, you donít have time. Thereís only so much that one person can do and thereís so much need for people to advise the community.
If you had a final message to get out to First Nations, industry and even students, what would you say to them?
For students, demand to be more involved in industry venues and these different kinds of industry forums. Not just renewable energy. There is so much going on an itís probably that weíre not organized enough with the education officers to say we should be pushing for these kinds of opportunities for the kids to connect.
If industry was looking for a way to get stronger partnerships or opportunity to work with First Nations, support energy forums or conferences. I am sure they would.
For First Nations, just keep demanding information because the information is so critical. For someone to take information that is all over the place and compile it into one document has been so helpful, so support thatís what required. Whenever I present I always get a favourable reaction. People always say to me, ďThis is exactly what we need.Ē