In October 2006, Hupacasath First Nation opened Upnit, a $14.5 million, 6.5 Megawatt hydroelectric plant in their traditional lands near Port Alberni, B.C. They accomplished this despite their small numbers, no experience in renewable energy, and little even in economic development.
How did this happen? By 2002 it was both practical and strategic for the First Nation to devote more resources to the energy sector. The land claim negotiation process had fallen into doubt, as had the safety of big, centralized power grid. BC Hydro, the province's major public utility, was interested in smaller, more environmentally-friendly sources of power. Just as important was the leadership of Chief Councillor Judith Sayers. She had spent years building relationships with other government bodies, the media, business and industry, and with the general public.
So when BC Hydro requested quotations for 800 GWh/year of alternative power, Hupacasath could act quickly. It found in Sigma Engineering, the Pembina Institute, and the City of Port Alberni partners with the expertise and data required for a high-quality proposal. With a contract from BC Hydro in hand, Hupacasath went looking for money to build Upnit. Vancity Capital Corporation helped organize $9 million in credit. Another $5 million in equity and other contributions completed the package. Still, through careful bargaining and problem-solving, Hupacasath retained the majority position (72.5%).