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Community members ask for details about Sipekne'katik First Nation wind farm developments

Dorene Bernard is one member of Sipekne'katik First Nation who wants to know more about how profits from wind farm developments will be shared with her community.(Robert Short/CBC)

Some members of Sipekne'katik First Nation want to pause two wind farm developments, claiming members have not been adequately consulted on future revenues or potential impact on Nova Scotia's mainland moose habitat.

"I think we need to bring it back to the community," said First Nation member Dorene Bernard.

Bernard questions transparency around project financing. Sipekne'katik First Nation was one of the big winners in Nova Scotia's largest-ever wind procurement announced in August.

Five majority Mi'kmaq-owned projects were selected and promised a 25-year contract, known as a power purchase agreement, to supply electricity to Nova Scotia Power.

Between them, the projects are expected to supply 372 megawatts of electricity, about 12 per cent of the province's total demand.

Sipekne'katik First Nation partnered with Vancouver-based Elemental Energy on wind farms proposed at Higgins Mountain in Cumberland County and Wedgeport in southwest Nova Scotia.

Bernard and two other women from Sipekne'katik First Nation, Cheryl Maloney and Carole Howe, issued a news release last week demanding an accounting of the projected revenue stream from any future power purchase agreement.

They want proof that majority ownership will deliver a majority of revenues. They say no power purchase agreements should be signed before financing is explained to the community.

"We're hoping they will postpone the signing of any agreements," Bernard said in an interview Monday.

"[So] that we have some input into what it is that they're going to make on these windmills and if we think that's fair. We should be able to say if we think it's going to benefit our community."

In the news release, they say Sipekne'katik First Nation administrators have said the power purchase agreements will generate $5 million over 25 years or about $200,000 a year to the First Nation.

"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," the news release states.

What's at stake

Sipekne'katik First Nation leadership, including Chief Mike Sack, did not respond to CBC News.

Sack told the Halifax Examiner council discussed the matter last week and had no concerns.

There is more at stake than local politics.

The five winning projects in Nova Scotia shared $125 million from the Natural Resources Canada Smart Renewables Program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funding in July at a Nova Scotia event with the province's representative in the federal cabinet, Sean Fraser, and Chief Sydney Peters of the Glooscap Band. Glooscap was one of the successful proponents.

Confidential details

Natural Resources Canada has not explained how the $125 million will be shared among the Nova Scotia bands.

"Details of these agreements are not open to disclosure due to commercial confidentiality," ministerial spokesperson Keean Nembhard said last month.

CBC News has asked Elemental Energy for information on the business relationship with Sipekne'katik, including the equity split between them, how much money the band is expected to put up for the projects and the status of the power purchase agreements.

The company declined to answer questions.

In a statement the company told CBC, "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 and Wedgeport Wind Farm Projects," project manager Maryam Baksh said in an email.

Concerns beyond money

Bernard also said her concerns go beyond dollars and cents.

"Whenever there's good news, it should be shared with the community. I'm really for wind development, just not feeling that the place that they want to put the wind development on Higgins Mountain, which is an endangered mainland moose habitat. You know, we can't support that," she said.

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