Sutcliffe: Ottawa entrepreneur sees green energy opportunity in First Nations …

July 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

OTTAWA — In the late 1980s, Chris Henderson was part of a team of people at the Delphi Group tasked with helping the CP Hotel chain become more environmentally friendly. Among more than a dozen recommendations, they proposed encouraging guests to specify whether they wanted their towels washed by throwing them in the bathtub.

By changing from the default of washing every towel every day, the hotels did something good for the environment and saved on operating costs. It soon became standard practice in the industry.

It’s with that spirit of combining corporate success and social responsibility the Ottawa entrepreneur is approaching his latest work. Through his company Lumos Energy, Henderson is spearheading a series of renewable energy projects on First Nations, Métis and Inuit land with two goals: creating permanent sources of clean power and generating sustainable economic development in aboriginal communities.

“I come at this unabashedly: I think climate change is a huge honking problem,� says Henderson. “So I want to promote renewable energy.�

But as he looked at opportunities in the area, Henderson soon discovered no one was working with aboriginal communities who had jurisdiction over some of the most appealing sites in the country for hydro, wind and biomass projects. That’s when it became clear he had the potential to get involved in an environmental and economic game-changer.

“Our relationship with First Nations is not good. We’ve taken their land, given them reserves and said, ‘Good luck.’ We give them a lot of money every year, but the deals that were done in the past weren’t really fair. They maintained a colonial relationship.�

Henderson is so passionate about the topic that he’s just released a book called Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples. The 206-page glossy book features a foreword co-authored by former prime minister Paul Martin, former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and First Nations leader Phil Fontaine.

“There’s nothing that compares to this in terms of economic potential for aboriginal communities to be part of the economic fabric of Canada,� Henderson says. “Mining doesn’t come close to it. We may open in Canada one or two mines of significance a year. Most mines don’t last long, maybe 10 or 15 years.

“If you build a wind farm or hydro energy, it’s there forever. Forty years is just the start.�

Henderson’s role is to negotiate deals with provincial utilities and private energy companies on behalf of aboriginal communities. As one example, he’s currently working on a hydroelectric project on Lake Nipissing, a partnership between a private company in Quebec and the Dokis First Nations community.

“I represent the First Nations,� he says. “I negotiate their stake in the project. And then I become an external trustee that helps them manage the capital they generate from the project.�

While the First Nations host stands to benefit from each project he initiates, Henderson also thinks the best structure is when the community is a full partner in the venture, sharing more than just the reward.

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