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Tobique Chief Says Wind Power Deal Shows How First Nations, Industry Can Work Together

NB Power President and CEO Gaëtan Thomas, Chief Ross Perley of Tobique First Nation and Andy MacCallum, VP Development for Natural Forces. Image: Submitted

FREDERICTON – Tobique First Nation and renewable energy developer Natural Forces will sell 20 MW of wind energy to NB Power from a wind farm near Sussex that is expected to cost $50-million to build.

The six-turbine Wocawson Wind Project will be 51 per cent owned by the Maliseet nation and 49 per cent held by Halifax-based Natural Forces. Tobique First Nation Chief Ross Perley said the fact that the project is led by First Nations makes a difference.

“Usually, industry likes to bully their way into our territories and use our resources and not give the communities any weight or stake or say, and that’s why conflicts happen,” he said. “But a project like this is led by First Nations, so we are involved from start to finish. Our people are involved. We have a stake, so we get a return, and we can also contribute to decreasing carbon emissions.”

The deal was signed as part of a provincial government initiative known as the Locally Owned Renewable Energy Projects that are Small Scale Procurement program (LORESS). Through this program, NB Power plans to buy up to 40 MW of renewable energy from First Nations and another 40MW from other local entities.

NB Power’s President and CEO Gaëtan Thomas wasn’t able to speak to Huddle before this story was published, but he said in a release that the utility is proud to work with Tobique First Nation on the project.

“This will help us reach our renewable energy goals and energy demands. This collaboration is an important one as we all have a role to play in the future of our energy market,” he said.

Around $40 million of the spending for the Wocawson Wind Project, located 20 kilometres northeast of Sussex, will be financed by debt, while the rest will be equity from the partners. Natural Forces and Tobique First Nation will invest $5 million each. Around $13 million is slated to be spent in New Brunswick for construction, said Andy MacCallum, VP Developments at Natural Forces.

The wind farm is slated to be operational by late 2019, provide power to over 4,500 homes in the province, and offset up to 70,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2019.

The project will generate between $5-million and $6-million annually throughout the 30-year contract.

“Essentially, most of that will go towards paying down the debt over that term, and then some of that will go towards operation, maintenance, and then after that, it would go to each partner according to their ownership [stake],” MacCallum said.

Chief Perley said the wind farm would help his community become economically self-sustainable.

“We’re expecting to gain some considerable revenue for our community. Our plan is to offset shortages from the federal government in terms of housing infrastructure, make some investments in education and other business opportunities that we have,” he said. “I think about 2022, that’s when we estimate to see maximum benefits from the farm.”

MacCallum said this partnership model has been used across Canada, particularly in the West Coast. The arrangement allows a knowledge transfer between private corporations and First Nations, he said. Natural Forces, which has offices in Vancouver and Dublin, Ireland, has nearly 50MW of renewable energy projects under development with First Nations.

“What it comes down is rural economic development, whether it’s nations or small municipalities or small town universities, we partner with all those entities,” MacCallum said.

Chief Perley said the partnership could be a model for other private companies who want to work with First Nations communities.

“I think the interest alone here in the province is big. I think there were over 20 interested communities [for the Wocawson project]. That tells you right there that First Nations want to be a part of projects like this and we need more of them,” he said.