Community-Led Energy Planning and Sustainability Assessment: A Partnership with Inuit in NunatuKavut, Labrador
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Canada is a global leader in renewable energy development. However, electricity-generation differs dramatically in off-grid communities, wherein 190 of 258 communities rely almost exclusively on diesel-generation. Of these 258 off-grid communities, 170 are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis. As such, off-grid diesel-dependence in Canada must be thought of as an issue disproportionately impacting Indigenous Peoples. While a growing body of research asserts the economic, environmental, and societal impacts of diesel-generation, and several outsider stakeholders have called for a rapid transition to renewable energies in Indigenous off-grid communities, there is limited research which examines the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples themselves on the impacts of off-grid energy systems or support for sustainable energies. As such, the Indigenous right of free, prior, and informed consent for development is often neglected in this discourse. Working in partnership with the NunatuKavut Community Council [NCC] – the governing council which represents Inuit predominantly in south and central Labrador - and nine diesel-dependent communities, this community-based participatory doctoral dissertation seeks to respond to NCC priorities and address these critical gaps in the literature. The research objectives included: (1) to determine how existing energy systems impact the sustainability of off-grid communities in NunatuKavut; and (2) to implement participatory methodologies to assess factors which influence community support for sustainable energies. The research relies predominantly on energy deployment and local sustainability theory. A theoretical framework which emphasises substantive (i.e. measurable impacts), procedural (i.e. perceptions and acceptance), and endogenous development as critical components of sustainability. This theoretical framework has a great deal of overlap with the community renewable energy literature, which emphasises both process and outcome dimensions of sustainable energy projects. We utilize a two-eyed seeing approach, and privilege NunatuKavut Inuit participation and knowledge throughout all stages of research. For Chapters 4 and 5, hybrid community-member interviews/surveys (n = 211) and key informant interviews (n = 11) are utilized to assess the sustainability of local energy systems. It is demonstrated that Inuit in NunatuKavut have diverse views on the sustainability of diesel-systems, including neutrality, support, or opposition. Diesel-generation is valued for its socio-economic contributions, primarily employment, reliability, and community familiarity. Conversely, community-members remained extremely concerned about environmental implications of diesel-generation, particularly contributions to climate change and the risks of fuel spills. Key energy system concerns are related to participatory injustice, exogenous development, and heat insecurity. The research demonstrates the disproportionate impact of energy system risks on segments of the population – mainly women, seniors, low-income families, and others with mobility or health challenges. The research demonstrates the necessity of decolonized decarbonization, that is, energy transitions which are grounded in community autonomy and local decision-making, which recognize and protect community strengths, and which support communities in addressing self-identified priorities. Chapter 6 of this research relied on the same research instruments, and assessed Indigenous perceptions and support for sustainable energy development in NunatuKavut. Community familiarity and understanding, association with previous projects, relationships with cultural and sustenance activities, endogeneity of resources, and security of energy – are found to be the most important factors influencing community support for sustainable energies. It is demonstrated that energy efficiency applications have substantially higher community support than supply-side generation options. In all, the doctoral dissertation represents a novel approach to community-led energy planning. Operationalizing the Indigenous research principles of respect, reciprocity, relationships, and rights, this participatory, needs-based, consent-driven approach to planning offers a template for other scholars, activists, governments, and communities with interests in sustainably assessment and transitions research and action.
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Nicholas Matthew John Mercer (2020). Community-Led Energy Planning and Sustainability Assessment: A Partnership with Inuit in NunatuKavut, Labrador. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16173