GUYSBOROUGH — A Mi’kmaq development organization got approval Monday for what it hopes will be the first of three wind projects.
Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn received the go-ahead for a four-megawatt project in Whynotts Settlement. The project was one of 18 approvals announced here under the province’s Community Feed-In Tariff Program. Under the program, Nova Scotia Power purchases electricity from community-based organizations that build wind, hydroelectric, tidal and biomass electricity generators.
“Rising electricity rates are a freight train coming down the track for band councils that we have to stop,” said Eric Christmas, energy consultant for the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative.
First Nations band councils, which already have tight budgets, are responsible for the electricity costs of members who rely on social assistance, Christmas said. Last year, that amounted to 15 million kw/h used in 3,000 homes on the province’s 13 aboriginal reserves, about five per cent of council budgets.
Two other Mi’kmaq projects are awaiting approval. One is near Amherst (six megawatts) and the other at Forbes Lake (3.3 megawatts). All are an attempt to make electricity a source of profit for First Nations communities. The projects are financed through a Mi’kmaq venture capital fund and profits will be redirected back to leveraging funds for other economic development projects. Christmas hopes to see the three projects under construction by next year.
“We have to own our own problems,” said Christmas.
“This project is not just a guaranteed rate of return. It also allows us to show our youth just how cool this industry is.”
A separate initiative will see band housing managers trained to do energy audits of 160 homes on reserves around the province to get an idea of low-cost work that could decrease electricity consumption.
The announcement, made Monday by Energy Minister Charlie Parker, means that nearly 40 projects have been approved under the COMFIT program since it began accepting applications in September. If all go ahead, they could produce 101 megawatts of capacity.
COMFIT guarantees that Nova Scotia Power will pay stable energy rates mostly higher than what consumers pay for electricity. Parker said that despite the cost of this subsidy being handed down to consumers, wind energy infrastructure costs only account for about one per cent of each Nova Scotian’s power bill.
“The cost of coal is going up and this will help shield us from this rising cost,” Parker said.
“Allowing communities to generate their own power at fixed rates for the next 20 years will put money directly back into our communities. Over time, those costs will go down.”