BC Hero – Hupacasath Chief Judith Sayers

Interview with Judith Sayers

Judith is the elected Chief of Hupacasath First Nations. As elected Chief, she oversees allbusiness, governance, administration and financial issues along with theelected council.

The interview was conducted on November 28th by Heather Rock, Dogwood Initiative volunteerand student in the faculty of Forestry at Univ. of British Columbia.

Heather Rock: Can you tell meabout one of your community’s achievements?

Judith Sayers: We have developed an independent power project(IPP), on China Creek, that produces 6.5 megawatts of electricity, enough tomeet the needs for 6,000 homes. It is a run of the river project; water runsdown a penstock 4.5 km in length with enough head to power the turbines at thebase. Creating energy in this way is non-consumptive and low impact. The energygenerated is then sold to BC Hydro under a 20 year contract.

Constructionlasted for 13 months; it was quite an undertaking to bury the pipe for thepenstock which is 5ft in diameter. China Creek flows to Alberni Inlet wherethere is a set of impassible falls that inhibit salmon passage.

The lack ofsalmon made the site an even better option for the project because fisheriesresources are also very important to our community. The water shed has residentdolly varden and non native rainbow trout are present however the area is verynutrient limited and individuals only reach a size of 4 inches, so thefisheries resource is minimal. We set the mean annual discharge to 15% ofannual flow at to reduce and any impacts on fish, as a result no compensationwas needed.

HR: Why did you get involved?

JS: Four years ago BC Hydro proposed a gas power generation plantin Port Alberni. Hupacasathparticipated in the environmental assessment process that they worked to push astage two Review which rarely happens.

The city of Port Alberni refused to rezoned the proposed area and theproject did not proceed. During the environmental assessment processHupacasath, along with other groups had concerns with air quality.

We decidedthat we did not just want to say “not in my backyard” and be part of theproblem but be a part of the solution. So, we looked at all forms of greenenergy available and at the set of resources available in our territory.

Wetried wind power but it was not successful. We settled on small scale hydro.

Our project is unique in that Port Albernihas a monitoring station on the creek with ten years of water flow data. Thisallowed us to prove that we had the flow was great enough to generate theamount of power we wanted. This was huge because no pilot study was needed,usually two to three years of data must be collected before you can get a goodidea of what the flow is like.

Another benefit of the selected project locationis that the land is privately owned by Island Timber and Timber West who had analready established road network. This greatly reduced the number of roads wehad to build reducing our impact on the landscape. Also, there was a threephase power connection located on a gravel pit edge nearby  where we were locating the powerhouse,and  we had no problem connecting to thegrid.

HR: Who are you working with

JS: Hupacasath were the project developers and we took the lead onthe feasibility study. We formed the company Upnit in order to get equitypartners for investment.

Hupacasath First Nation owns 72.%%, Ucluelet FirstNations was brought in for 10%. Synex Energy out of Vancouverowns 12.5%, they also served as experts on our board and on the project team.The city of Port Alberni owns 5%.

This was a good business decision in that it ensured co-operation and theyassisted in obtaining the water license. All of the funding provided wasfederal as there is a lack of support from municipal and provincial governmentsin spending taxpayers dollars on these kinds of projects. Overall it was a hugelearning experience.

HR: How has this affectedyour community and their environment?

JS: If the natural gas plant had been built 31 kilotonnes of greenhouse gases (using best practices) would be emitted yearly. This is equivalentto keeping eight-thousand cars off the road.

HR: How did this achievementmake you feel?

JS: Very important. Vancouver Island imports90% of its energy needs by means of underwater cables. This is an issue becausethe cables are old and need replacement.

We had to be creative in finding moneyfor these projects, securing funding was a big achievement. Indian and NorthernAffairs equity program gave two-million [dollars] in matching equity funds, wealso received one quarter of a million from the federal governments AboriginalClimate Change program.

Through the Softwood Initiative that was put in placeto alleviate loss of jobs, Western Diversification lent nine hundred andforty-five thousand dollars as a loan with favourable payback terms. StevenOwen,  Minister of Western EconomicDiversification, played a big role in helping us obtain funding. 

VanCity Capital did the debt syndicate byspeaking to BC Credit Unions. Most of the Credit Unions were not familiar withgreen energy projects and learned about them before investing.  They are now open to fund other Small Hydroprojects. 

Having a 20 year ElectricityPurchase Agreement with BC Hydro certainly helped obtain debt equity. Anotherachievement was the creation of a community energy plan; we wanted to get anestimate of our own energy consumption. 

Ourcommunity only has 50 homes; the rest of the power generated is sold to grid.We wanted to know what our community’s energy uses and needs were and how to bemore efficient in the future.  It gave usa plan on how to do things differently.

HR: What is one of thebiggest problems you encountered

JS: Finding the equity we needed when we are a poor community.  Also getting people to believe in theproject. There are not a lot of funding options available, but we weresuccessful.

HR: What lessons have youlearned?

JS: Anything is possible if you have a good support network andgood relations with people.

Good relationships within and outside thecommunity, as well as with governments. If you have everyone helping you, youwill make it.

From the creation of Upnit, to getting financing this project isa huge achievement. This is one solution to climate change and Upnit now hasplans to undertake similar projects.

HR: What advice would youshare with other communities?

JS: To find the best project possible and the best people to workwith contractors, engineers, and lawyers. Surround yourself with supportivepeople. That is the key to your success in getting a project off the ground.

HR: What is your biggestachievement?

JS: That we even did it. Not only that but, on time, on scheduleand on budget.

There is so much uncertainty with these projects especially whenconstructing pipelines below ground. There are many difficulties withconstruction, stakeholder and financial issues. Many other projects have notbeen built.

When we applied for a water license there were thirty-threeapplications. Only three received water licenses. We are proof that it can bedone.

The Hupacasath and Judith recently won a major court victory in their lawsuit against the government’s decsion to approve the removal of 70,000 from TFL 44. This decision creates a precedant that could inhibit the privatization of land.

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