Looking for a good example of Indigenous and municipal economic development plans working side by side? Look no further.
It’s not easy being green. But on the outskirts of Merritt in British Columbia’s scenic Nicola Valley – the challenge is being met.
“Action speaks louder than words,” says Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band Chief, as he provides an update on what is set to become the province’s largest solar farm.
Currently finalizing lease agreements after receiving a final blessing from Ottawa, the $30 million project calls for 56,000 solar modules over 200 acres of grassland in one of the sunniest areas of B.C.
While adamant that the project “won’t be ugly,” Chief McLeod describes the mammoth venture as “a good step” and is expected to generate 15 megawatts of electricity a year or enough to power approximately 5,000 homes annually.
An offshoot of BC Hydro’s Interior to Lower Mainland Transmission project, the solar farm venture is also a key component of Merritt’s Green Energy Plan, says the city’s Economic Development Manager, Will George. That initiative has an overall goal of creating 40 megawatts of renewable energy per year – enough to power 35,000 homes.
Gone are the days of polluting beehive burners littering the Nicola Valley landscape.
Chief McLeod says while the solar farm will only create 4 to 6 permanent jobs once operational in late 2020, the revenue is expected to be “substantial.” Declining to offer a dollar amount while negotiations with BC Hydro remain sensitive, the chief says his long-term vision is to create hope and prosperity for the band’s youth – and vows solar power revenue will be directed to health, wellness, and education.
For McLeod, it’s partly personal. Referring to his own 5-year-old grandson, the chief wants his band’s young people to seek careers instead of jobs.
“Little ones like my grandson have the spark and shine and they haven’t been tarnished by a tough world to change their mind.
“I want them to grow up in an environment that is never tarnished. That they have enough strength within themselves to always be able to dream,” says Chief McLeod.
“A long time ago, those dreams were taken away.”
Back in downtown Merritt, George is reporting growth after absorbing an economic body blow when Tolko Industries closed a local sawmill at the end of 2016. The official community plan expects its current population of 7,000 to double by 2030.
“We’re seeing a mix of small business support and large business growth,” says George, particularly optimistic about the new Merritt Small Business Centre.
“It’s an incubator for developing businesses and entrepreneurs,” says George, which comes on the heels of a recent $10 million expansion at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.
These days, Canada’s Country Music Capital is singing a high note.
As always, I welcome your comments on Twitter: @kammornanchor.
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.