Hydro Quebec better watch out, the wind is blowing and it might just blow them off the map.
A number of leaders have been flirting with the idea of bringing alternative energy sources – especially wind power – to Eeyou Istchee.
Representatives from Waskaganish, Nemaska and Whapmagoostui attended the 20th annual Conference of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), held at the Delta Hotel in Montreal October 17-20. They were very pleased with the outcome.
“My job is to seek out means to promote economic development for our community,” said Mathew Mukash, the President of Whapmagoostui’s development corporation. “When I heard about this conference I decided to go and get more information on wind energy. It represents a good alternative to building hydro dams on our territory.”
Mukash, who opposed the damming of the Rupert River, noted that the technology has been around for about 20 years. “I can’t understand why it has not been tapped into yet.”
Mukash added that if the Cree Nation were to get serious about developing wind power, bringing the technology to the north by building infrastructure and securing the funding would take at least two years. He’s willing to wait. “I’d rather see a wind farm here than dams,” he said.
Another proponent of wind power is Waskaganish Chief Robert Weistche. He was also opposed to the damming of the Rupert and feels very strongly about alternative sources of energy.
“It’s a matter of people coming together to look at alternatives to the destruction of Cree territory,” Weistche told the Nation.
“The world being what it is today means a dwindling supply of natural resources. The cost of energy is going up and people are concerned about where things are going and I think it’s time we start looking at alternatives,” he said.
“We talked about wind power but I think there are other alternatives that we’re starting to hear more about today. We’re participating in forums and conferences on alternative energy and trying to learn as much as we can and keep abreast of the new technology that’s coming up.”
Weistche pointed to hydrogen, biomass and geothermal power as replacements for hydroelectricity. “I think people should get on board and realize that we could be looking at alternatives for the Cree territory rather than building these massive destructive projects that people think are the only solution. It’s not the only solution,” said Weistche.
Hydro Quebec has installed beacons to measure the wind strength in some of the communities. According to the data, certain places in Eeyou Istchee are amongst the windiest in Canada.
Weistche said that the advocates of the project are hoping to attend a conference in mid-November in Toronto called Developing Alternative Energy Sources on Aboriginal Traditional lands. They hope to gain more knowledge on the power of harnessing wind and other energy sources and pass it on to the members of their communities.
Geo-thermal power, which consists of tapping into the heat of the earth’s core, is also something the Cree Nation is studying, according to Weistche. “Everything is at the very early stages right now so we’re weighing all options.”
He added that some of the communities are behind in paying their hydro bills. “We’re paying for something that is in our back yards and coming from our rivers,” he said. “I don’t understand why we have to keep paying and paying until we can’t afford to anymore.”
Harnessing wind energy and selling it back to Hydro Quebec is a possibility that has been discussed.
At the Annual General Assembly in August, the Grand Council of the Crees created a body called the Authority on Energy and Sustainable Development. Its members will be responsible for gathering information on alternative energy sources and informing the public what these sources can do for Eeyou Istchee as a whole.
Weistche said that efforts to make wind power work better in recent years make it more attractive than ever before to a Nation that will one day be in full control of its own destiny.
“The windmills today are much better than the ones from 10 years ago,” Weistche observed. “They’re more efficient, make less noise and there is a lower rate of animal mortality. Even the cost has come down.”