Large white billboard in Wentworth Valley showing maple leaves of different colours, and saying "Wentworth Valley, Four Seasons of Adventure." Photo: Joan Baxter
Billboard in Wentworth Valley, site of the recently awarded Higgins Wind Farm project. Photo: Joan Baxter

Concerned band members of Sipekne’katik First Nation and Mi’kmaq rights holders have started a petition asking for a review of the wind farms that the Nova Scotia government awarded in August to Elemental Energy Renewables in partnership with Sipekne’katik First Nation.

The awards were in response to a Nova Scotia Rate Based Procurement request for proposals for renewable energy projects that the province issued in February 2022.

“Until there is a full review, verification, and investigation into the wind energy contracts awarded to Sipekne’katik First Nation and Elemental Energy Higgins Wind Project, we are calling upon Nova Scotia Power Inc. and the Nova Scotia government to suspend the signing of the Power Purchase Agreement,” reads the petition.

The petition says that the review must include verification of Sipekne’katik’s majority ownership and Mi’kmaq engagement in the projects, as well as verification of environmental risk, and an investigation into a “possible breach of the prohibition of lobbying, collusions, and conflict of interest.”

The Halifax Examiner asked Sipekne-katik Chief Mike Sack for his response to the petition and the request for a verification review of the wind projects and his band’s participation in them. His reply:

This matter was discussed at a Council meeting yesterday. And there were no concerns about any conflict of interest or the process.

Chief Mike Sack weaing dark sunglasses and weaing a black t-shirt smiles at the camera in this Facebook photo with the blue ocean as a backdrop.
Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack Facebook photo

The news that the Nova Scotia government had selected five wind projects in its largest ever procurement of low-cost renewable energy came not in an official press release from the government, but in a CBC story by Simon Smith on August 17, 2022.

Smith wrote that each of the wind projects was “majority-owned by one or more Mi’kmaw communities.” He reported that two of them – Higgins Mountain Wind Farm near Wentworth in Colchester and Cumberland counties, and Wedgeport Wind Farm in Yarmouth County – were being developed by Elemental Energy and Sipekne’katik First Nation.

This, says Cheryl Maloney of Sipekne’katik First Nation, was the first she heard that these wind projects were majority-owned by her community.

Maloney, a Mi’kmaq activist, practitioner of Indigenous law, and former president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, tells the Halifax Examiner that when she read the article, she sent an email to CBC to correct it, assuming that they had made a mistake in saying that Sipekne’katik First Nation was the majority owner of the Higgins and Wedgeport wind farm projects.

Maloney says she didn’t hear back.

After this, she says there were social media posts informing the community that Sipekne’katik First Nation would make about $5 million over 25 years from the Higgins wind in Wentworth Valley.

“According to my math, that would put us at $200,000 a year,” Maloney says.

Because this seemed far too little for a majority owner of the project, she assumed the CBC report was wrong, and Sipekne’katik First Nation held only a minority part of the project or was just a supporting partner.

Cheryl Maloney holds up her aunt's copy of the Treaty of 1752 in front of Province House in Halifax on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford
Cheryl Maloney holds up her aunt’s copy of the Treaty of 1752 in front of Province House in Halifax on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

It ‘doesn’t add up’

Then in September, Maloney joined a small group touring the site for the wind farm in the Wentworth Valley, and was able to ask a representative of Elemental Energy if indeed Sipekne’katik First Nation was a majority owner of the project.

“He said yes,” Maloney tells the Examiner. “That’s when I said, ‘Okay, I have to remove myself.’”

In her view, $200,000 a year for a majority owner “just doesn’t add up,” and she was alarmed that her community knew nothing about the project.

“The company confirming what CBC said was the first time that I just stood back and said, ‘Wow, something’s not right,’” says Maloney.

According to the press release issued by the concerned band members today, the $200,000 per year and “short-term construction jobs” that they’ve been promised by Sipekne’katik’s Director of Operations and the Band’s Economic Development Officer, “hardly seems to be a good deal for the community or reflect a majority ownership, which we’re told is 55%.”

“Due to the lack of community consultation, there are serious questions about the integrity of the highly competitive bid process, which awarded points for First Nations engagement and ownership,” says the press release.

It continues:

The bottom line is this: Sipekne’katik First Nation community members were not informed or consulted about the wind energy projects, or the partnership with Elemental Energy. We are still waiting for information about the bids that were submitted, the partnership agreement, the Impact Benefits Agreement, and the value of the projects. This runs directly counter to the new Sipekne’katik Governance Initiative consultation protocol requiring deep consultations with community rights holders for projects that could have a significant impact on our Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

Again, as noted earlier, Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack has told the Examiner that Council met yesterday, and had no concerns about the process or any conflict of interest.

Northern Pulp to benefit from the Wentworth wind farm

Today’s press release from the concerned band members also notes that Northern Pulp owns the land where the Higgins wind farm will be located in Wentworth:

There are red flags with regard to these contracts that must be investigated. Higgins Mountain Wind Farm is located on land owned by Northern Pulp. The company stands to profit from the rent it collects from Sipekne’katik First Nation and Elemental Energy. It is particularly concerning, therefore, that Brian Dorey, the Director of Operations for Sipekne’katik First Nation, was still an employee of Northern Pulp up until June 30 of this year, which overlaps with his time as the Director of Operations. His role in securing the deal presents a possible conflict of interest.

A July 2020 affidavit to the British Columbia Supreme Court – where Northern Pulp and six related Paper Excellence companies sought and received creditor protection and relief from debt payments in June 2020 – states that a Brian Dorey would be a salaried employee until June 2022.

The Examiner has left a text and phone message with Brian Dorey, who is now the Director of Operations for Sipekne’katik First Nation, asking him if he was an employee of Northern Pulp until June 2022, and for his response to the allegation of a possible conflict of interest. As of publication time, he had not replied.

In December 2021, the Examiner reported on an open house held in Wentworth by the representatives of the proponents of the project – Ottawa-based 3G Energy Corp, Stevens Wind Ltd, and Elemental Energy Renewables Inc.

At that open house there was no mention of a partnership with Sipekne’katik First Nation.

However, the Examiner did ask the proponents how much Northern Pulp, which owns the land where the project will be located — thanks to a $75 million loan it received in 2010 from the Nova Scotia government of NDP Premier Darrell Dexter to buy the land — will make from the project.

Map from the HIggins Mountain Wind Farm proponents' website showing the Northern Pulp land on which the turbines will be located in Wentworth Valley
Map from Higgins Mtn Wind Farm website showing Northern Pulp land and wind farm project location

According to Garfield Moffatt, chair of the project’s Community Liaison Committee, an average yearly lease for the land for a small three-to-four megawatt turbine is about $20,000 a year for about 20 years, and it could go up to $30,000 after that.

As the Examiner reported in 2021:

Moffatt calculated that Northern Pulp would be paid at least $600,000 a year — and possibly much more — for having 18 very large turbines on its land on Higgins Mountain.

Moffatt also noted that the community fund of $100,000 promised by the project pales next to what “the landowner” — Northern Pulp — will receive from the project.

If Moffatt’s figures are correct and the concerned Sipekne’katik band members have been given accurate information about the benefits their community would get, this means Northern Pulp would make at least three times more from the wind project every year than would Sipekne’katik First Nation, the majority owner of the project.

Last December, the Examiner also asked Stevens Wind representative Paul Pynn if the wind project owners would control what happened on the rest of the Northern Pulp land if the turbines are installed and the lease extended. He replied that except for the immediate surroundings of the turbines, control of the land would remain with Northern Pulp.

In the foreground are the large tracks of the tree harvesting machines that clearcut a patch of Northern Pulp land on Higgins Mtn in Wentworth Valley in 2017, with a view down into the valley and the ski hill across Highway 4. Photo: Joan Baxter
Northern Pulp 2017 clearcut on its Higgins Mtn property across Highway 4 from the Wentworth ski hill. Photo: Joan Baxter

The Examiner contacted Daniel Eaton, director of project development at Elemental Energy in Vancouver, with questions about the agreement with Sipekne’katik First Nation, what percentage of the project it owned, what the project was worth over its lifetime and how much of that would go to Sipekne’katik, and for details on consultations. His reply:

We can confirm that we have a partnership agreement with Sipekne’katik First Nation, but we don’t publicly comment on or discuss details of any commercial or partnership agreements.

We are currently working with the Sipekne’katik First Nation consultation and environmental teams to review the Higgins Mountain Wind Farm Project.

Endangered mainland moose habitat

In September, Cheryl Maloney accompanied the project proponents on a visit to the proposed site of the wind farm in Wentworth, which is habitat for the endangered mainland moose, and according to the province’s 2021 recovery plan, also one of the most important concentration areas for the species.

This 2021 Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables map shows in green the main areas with mainland moose remaining in the province, and Guysborough County on the Eastern Shore appears to be the largest, with Cumberland County in second place.

Says Maloney, “And I realized when I was standing up in the mountains that if they build the wind farm for two years, and Northern Pulp continues its cutting, the moose will be spooked. They’re going to leave. Where are they going to go? If this is the critical habitat for their successful existence on earth, where are they going to go for two years? Forever?”

Maloney asked the company representatives about the effect the wind farm would have on the endangered mainland moose. She says she was told that would be dealt with by the environmental assessment.

“You can’t deal with the moose issue and Aboriginal rights under an environmental assessment,” Maloney tells the Examiner. “We went to court against Alton Gas on that, and the judges said that these things don’t fit in environmental assessments. They have to be deal with at the front end.”

According to today’s press release from concerned Sipekne’katik band members:

A 2020 Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision concerning the Alton Gas project has clarified the duty to consult with First Nations communities. Cox & Palmer explains: “The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has, in what could be a potential landmark judgment, expanded on the issue of the Crown’s “duty to consult” with First Nations holding that the duty goes beyond considering just the environmental impact of large infrastructure projects. In a ruling by the Honourable Justice Frank C. Edwards, the Court concluded that, as part of the “duty to consult,” a First Nations claim to title and treaty rights must be first assessed before the project’s impacts can be considered.”

This was not done, nor did the Province, proponents, or Band leadership fulfill their duty to consult.

Time is of the essence, as the twenty-five year, multi-million dollar Power Purchase Agreement is scheduled to be signed in late October.

The press release concludes in bold text:

We demand answers before a Power Purchase Agreement is signed and before an Environmental Assessment gets underway.

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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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