But some First Nations fear, despite the funding, that government interest in the green option is cooling in the shadow of the province's multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas dreams.
Judith Sayers, a former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island and now an association board member, said clean energy was not part of BC Hydro's draft 20-year plan released in August.
"A $50 billion industry being cast aside in the province? It's amazing to me that that could actually happen, that we could be so fully left out of the next 20 years of electricity planning," Sayers said after listening to Rustad speak.
"Especially in light of how involved First Nations are in this industry and how much benefit this brought — jobs, capacity building, benefits in the community for language and culture. That's more the things that we focus on instead of revenue."
Energy Minister Bill Bennett told conference attendees that he has ordered the Crown corporation to revise the plan to include investment in clean energy.
Rustad said after his speech that the government continues to move forward with its clean energy strategy and investments.
"LNG is the most exciting opportunity that this province has probably ever seen, and may ever see in the future. It is enormous in what it will do," he said.
"However, there are tremendous other projects that are going on around the province, whether it's in clean energy, or whether it's in forestry, whether its in agriculture or mining.
Rustad said in his noon-hour speech that clean energy offers an evolution in the relationship between government, business and First Nations.
"It may not be perfect. It may not be able to resolve all sort of issues, but it's a huge step and it's a huge opportunity for building the kind of economic potential and the kind of partnerships that we want to see, and ultimately, building that better relationship government-to-government," he said.
Under the provincial First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund, up to $40,000 is available for bands to develop the capacity for clean energy and as much as $500,000 is available in equity funding to invest in projects.
Among the 12 recipients announced Monday, the Lake Babine Nation will look at using wood chips for a biomass heating system, and the Shishalh (Sechelt) Nation will invest in the 33-megawatt Narrows Inlet hydro project.
Sayers said clean energy has a minimal impact on the environment, and has greater appeal to First Nations than some of the energy projects that have faced opposition from aboriginal groups. More than 80 bands were represented at the conference in Vancouver.
"It's easier to be involved in this industry than being in, you know, the Enbridge project, where the environmental impacts can't be prevented," she said.
"The most important thing is our way of life and continuing to exercise our rights. If we can't do that, we don't want the projects."
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