Clean Energy as a Catalyst For Economic Development and Environmental Preservation

By Anna Guy

Every scene could be a postcard: mountains, glacier-fed lakes, sunsets with the shade of pink that you can only find on Canada’s West coast, picturesque forests. Atlin, BC, is a special place in Northwestern BC, close to the Yukon border, and 75 kilometres away from Juneau, Alaska. A small community of about 400 people, Atlin is home to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, whose territory covers over 40,000 square kilometres and includes what is now known as British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska.

“Our Territory contains high mountains, expansive forests rich with wildlife and salmon filled wild rivers,” says the Taku River Tlingit (TRT) representative. “As responsible decision makers we are embarking on a course necessary to ensure the preservation of our wildlife and fisheries. This will assist us in ensuring the preservation of what is Tlingit.”

Taku Group of Companies

The philosophy of sustainability is the foundation of the Taku Group of Companies. One of the companies in that group, Atlin Tlingit Economic Limited Partnership, works to create capacity building within the community, empowering TRT citizens to develop sustainable careers, and upholding Tlingit values that maintain the physical and spiritual values of the TRT Traditional Territory.

Peter Kirby, CEO of the Atlin Tlingit Economic LP, spoke with Business Elite Canada about the community’s focus on clean energy as a catalyst for economic development and environmental preservation and sustainability. Kirby has lived in Atlin for nearly two decades, and has contributed a to human resource and economic development, planning, training, and capacity-building.

Addressing Energy Issues

A major objective of the ATELP was developing a community energy plan to address challenges in energy availability and a dependence on diesel. ATELP’s sister company, Xeitl LP (pronounced “Shayckl” and means ‘lightning’ in Tlingit) built a 2.1 MW hydro facility in 2009. These efforts have resulted in a new source of economic development, investment and training, and a 25-year energy purchase agreement with BC Hydro.

“The hydro facility will meet the projected energy demand up to the year 2035, accounting for a two percent annual population growth,” says Kirby. Until then, there is an excess of energy—and that is potential revenue for the town.”

Line to the Yukon

The next step, says Kirby, is a potential 8MW expansion at the Atlin hydro facility and a new 100-kilometre transmission line that would run from Atlin to the Yukon—95 per cent of the Yukon population is served by an electrical grid.

“We are in the final stages of writing a feasibility study. The overall plan is to connect to the Yukon grid, installing up to 8MW and capacity building. That would provide more reliability for both communities because energy could go both directions which may allow BC Hydro to remove the back-up generators that remain here.”

“Reconciliation should allow First Nations to determine their future and implement their own economic development projects,” says Kirby. “Indigenous communities like Atlin want to decide their future, and experiences elsewhere show encouraging results for self-governance.”

When asked why clean energy sources are well-suited for remote communities, Kirby says, “I think many people understand that Indigenous philosophy is one of cohabitating with the environment, not ruling domain over it. Particularly in this era of growing understating of climate change, clean energy fits so well in communities with these core philosophies and traditional beliefs. Clean Energy gets a lot of support from these communities. There is a lot of pride, for example, in Atlin, in the fact that we turned off the diesel energy, reducing GHG emissions by 4,400 tonnes a year or more.”

The ATELP works to advance community interests, while seeing opportunities for industry, Indigenous peoples, communities, and all levels of government to promote clean energy, spur economic development, and address environmental challenges.