First Nations company clears way for grid connection

An IRM crew clears timber in preparation for connection to the BC Hydro grid for First Nations communities southeast of Pemberton.

Posted by Phil Rygg
A First Nations company is clearing the way so that BC Hydro can connect four BC First Nation communities to the grid and provide them with clean and reliable power.

In-SHUCK-ch Resource Management (IRM) has been awarded a $1.4 million tree clearing contract to help BC Hydro bring electricity to four First Nations communities in the Lillooet River Valley, 70 km southeast of Pemberton. In February, IRM began clearing vegetation for a 30-kilometre distribution line which will connect the St’at’imc communities of Baptiste-Smith, Skookumchuck (Skatin), Port Douglas and Tipella to the BC Hydro electrical grid.  

Replacing diesel power

Each of the four St’at’imc communities currently receives their electricity via diesel generation systems which not only produce greenhouse gas emissions, but are also unreliable and costly.

Under the Southern St’at’imc Communities Grid Connection Project, the First Nations will receive clean and reliable power by connecting to the BC Hydro electrical grid through new distribution lines and two new substations located near Skookumchuk, in the north, and Tipella, in the south.

“Contracting with local First Nations helps to build their capacity and cultivates long-term relationships," said Don Cochrane, Southern St’at’imc Communities Grid Connection Project Manager. "Provisions in BC Hydro’s Aboriginal Contract and Procurement Policy enabled us to match the capacity of the local First Nations with some of the business opportunities emerging from the Project.

Established in 2006, IRM is a 50/50 partnership between Lizzie Bay Logging Ltd. and In-SHUCK-ch Development Corporation. For this clearing contract  IRM has hired fallers, first aid attendants, flaggers, and wood pile igniters from each of the four St’at’imc communities.

"Although we live in close proximity to the Sea to Sky corridor, Whistler and the mid-Fraser Valley, we're nonetheless a world apart," said Gerard Peters, the In-SHUCK-ch Treaty Negotiator and member of the Samahquam band. “We have no landline telephone, we rely on forest service roads and we get power from diesel generators, which are expensive to run and maintain, create noise and are not the most eco-friendly means to 'plug in'."

"When we lose power, it's often for days. Without power we can't communicate over satellite systems. We're cut off. BC Hydro will finally connect us to the grid by the end of 2010. We're looking forward to the same service that other British Columbians take for granted."

Working with First Nations

BC Hydro is committed to advancing economic opportunities for First Nations and Aboriginal businesses. Throughout the project’s environmental assessment process, BC Hydro hired community members to work with surveying and environmental crews to gather the necessary information for the environmental and wildlife studies.  

The $30 million project is being financed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and by BC Hydro as part of its commitment to address historical grievances with the St’at’imc First Nations. "One of BC Hydro's guiding principles is to provide appropriate electric service on an equitable basis to all remote communities within the province that are not currently served by BC Hydro," said Nick Hawley, BC Hydro’s Remote Community Electrification Manager.

On April 13th, BC Hydro received a letter from the British Columbia Utilities Commission approving the project expenditure. The four communities are expected to be connected to the grid by December 2010.

Phil Rygg is a communications advisor with BC Hydro’s Aboriginal Relations team.