MNO President Gary Lipinski (left) with CarbonFree
Technology Chief Executive Officer (CEO) David Oxtoby
at Upper Canada College where one of the MNO’s solar
projects is located.

It is not every day that Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) President Gary Lipinski finds himself exploring the rooftop of a building in Toronto but Wednesday, April 27, 2016 turned out to be just that kind of day. President Lipinski was on the roof of a building at Upper Canada College to tour one of the 50 solar energy projects that the MNO is a 50.1 % or more owner of in Ontario. President Lipinski received the tour from David Oxtoby, CEO; Ven Seshadri, Vice-President; and Syd Healey, Project Development Manager; of CarbonFree Technology— the MNO’s partner in these exciting ventures.

“This is my first tour of one of our solar facilities,” commented President Lipinski. “It was wonderful to see. It’s a beautiful sunny day today, and to see the facilities in full production was great. Green energy, to me, is very in line with the values of the Métis Nation of Ontario puts on reducing our carbon footprint.”

President Lipinski (left) with Minister Chiarelli in 2013
during the announcement of MNO FIT contract awards.

The fact that the MNO has solar projects in 50 locations is an impressive accomplishment especially when considering that the MNO only entered into the business of providing solar energy in 2012. In 2011, the government of Ontario amended its contracting policies for its Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program in order to encourage solar energy companies to recruit Aboriginal partners. One of these companies was CarbonFree Technology—a major player in the solar industry that had already developed a large number of solar facilities in both Canada and the United States. The MNO was also aware of the changes to the FIT program and in 2012 the two entities entered into talks that resulted in the creation of the Métis Nation of Ontario – BrightRoof Solar Limited Partnership (LP). MNO owns 50.1% of the economic interest in the partnership and BrightRoof Solar LP, an investor in Ontario solar projects managed by CarbonFree Technology, owns the remaining 49.9%.

CarbonFree Vice-President Ven Seshadri (left) explains the
workings of the solar panels to President Lipinski.

On the partnership with the MNO, CarbonFree’s CEO Oxtoby stated: “Working with the MNO has been a dream come true. Gary and the MNO leadership are easy to work with; very professional and businesslike. We are so glad they chose us as their partner.”

In mid-2013, the Ontario Power Authority awarded 63 contracts for rooftop and small ground-based solar projects to Métis Nation of Ontario – BrightRoof Solar LP. This was formally announced by Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli prior to the 2013 MNO Annual General Assembly. Of these projects, 50 were eventually built and commissioned while the remaining 13 were not built due to failing various technical feasibility assessments.

Cinram International, TorontoMNO Solar Project in Cinram International, Toronto It was very timely that the FIT contracts were announced just prior to the AGA because at the 2013 AGA the MNO also passed its first law: The MNO Prosperity and Self-Sufficiency Law. This law is an essential element in the MNO drive for self-government and the new solar projects are a key ingredient to making the law effective. As outlined in the MNO Statement of Prime Purpose, economic self-sufficiency is a necessary element of self-government. As long as the MNO is dependent on grants and support from other governments it will never be totally self-governing. With the MNO solar projects, the MNO now has the potential to raise revenue independent of other governments. “Someone can’t give you self-government,” President Lipinski stated at the 2013 AGA, “it is something we must build for ourselves.”

Calvary Church, PeterboroughMNO Solar Project in Calvary Church, Peterborough “This [solar energy project] partnership creates business opportunities that produce revenue generating streams for future generations,” explained President Lipinski, “so I think this is a wonderful fit on so many fronts. We can do good things for the environment, do good things to reduce climate change, and create revenue streams that Métis people can benefit from for years to come.”

Winning the contracts and passing the self-sufficiency law were, however, only the first steps. If the MNO was going to realize revenues for future generations there was still a great deal of work to be done. The solar facilities needed to be built and required identifying potential locations where solar panels could be exposed to sunlight and buildings with the infrastructure to support both the weight of the panels and the necessary wiring. Once sites were located, the building owners
Oakville Mini-Storage, OakvilleMNO Solar Project in Oakville Mini-Storage, Oakville had to be approached and lease agreements were made. The next step once these were in place was the solar panels had to be installed and connected to the provincial grid so the electricity they generate can be sold.

All of this required a significant investment by the MNO and CarbonFree. The MNO was able to raise its share of the funds from loans obtained through the Métis Voyageur Development Fund and the province’s Aboriginal Loan Guarantee Program. These loans will have to be paid back before the MNO will be able to return the profits from the solar facilities back to its citizens according to the provisions of the economic self-sufficiency law.

Today, MNO-owned solar projects generate 17,700,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year. The kilowatt-hour is a unit of
VersaCold Inc., BramptonMNO Solar Project in VersaCold Inc., Bramptonenergy equivalent to one kilowatt (kW) of power sustained for one hour. Put in more user-friendly terms, the average household in Ontario uses 10,000 kWh a year and MNO projects generate sufficient electricity to power 1770 households a year.

While this is an impressive accomplishment, President Lipinski sees even greater success in the MNO’s future: “This partnership and the philosophy to produce green energy is something that I think the Métis Nation of Ontario will continue to build on. I would like to see the day when the Métis Nation of Ontario produces enough green energy to meet the needs of every MNO citizen and beyond.”

CarbonFree’s CEO Oxtoby agreed: “The MNO has become a significant player in the solar industry and a very desirable
Upper Canada College, TorontoMNO Solar Project in Upper Canada College, Torontopartner. Its work in solar power has opened up other potential areas of growth including wind power and infrastructure.”

In keeping with that potential, the MNO’s significant solar assets have recently been moved over to the MNO’s new arms-length economic development arm: Métis Infinity Investments LP. Métis Infinity Investments LP was also part of the plan envisioned in the MNO Prosperity and Economic Self-Sufficiency Law and is a great foundation for building a diversified portfolio of assets that will eventually generate revenue to support MNO self-government.

While President Lipinski was a key figure in bringing all aspects of these projects to fruition, his busy schedule had never afforded him the time to actually visit any of the MNO solar projects. So with his term near completion, he decided he should get a look at what is one of the greatest legacies he is leaving MNO citizens.

During the tour he said: “What I find totally fascinating about the partnerships and our projects is that you can see that there is very little environmental footprint. These projects are installed on buildings that are already established. The rooftops are vacant and can be used to gather energy from the sun. There is no destructive impact on the environment.”

All MNO citizens can feel a justifiable pride in its solar projects—a green legacy that is advancing Métis self-government.

Published on: May 2, 2016