A Champion for Energy Matters in Alderville First Nation

Nov 3, 2021

When Lori Lees sat down to scope out job ads during the fall of 2019, she had no idea she was about to take on significant new responsibilities.

Armed with a Bachelors in Geography from Trent University and a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Management and Assessment from Niagara College, she was intrigued to see a posting from Alderville First Nation for a Community Energy Champion. With a passion for energy and sustainability issues, she took a leap of faith and hit “Apply Now.”

After a multi-stage interview process, she was eventually confirmed in the role, which is funded through the IESO’s Community Energy Champion (CEC) program, in December 2019. While she was full of big ideas for community engagement, the arrival of COVID-19 in Ontario forced her to change her approach.

“I believe it is important to note that I am not Indigenous,” she explains. “To build relationships with the community and earn their trust is my number one priority. I really wanted to meet people in person. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of the last year communicating by phone, email and video. I’ve created a lot of online content, including a series of YouTube videos on energy efficiency and conservation, along with other educational material that will be published later this year.”

Since its inception in 2018, the CEC program has awarded more than $11.2 million in funding to enable the hiring of approximately 50 CECs across Ontario. The funding enables Indigenous communities and organizations to hire a designated community energy champion to help plan, implement and evaluate energy-related priorities.

Alderville First Nation is located on the south side of Rice Lake, approximately 30 km north of Cobourg, Ontario. It has more than 700 households and over 20 businesses. In addition to CEC funding, Alderville has tapped into other sources of IESO support over the years. The community has received more than $400,000 from various programs focused on community energy planning, education and capacity building, capital project development, and energy efficiency measures. Much of the work is still underway, meaning Lori expects to be very busy in the months to come.

In the works are several projects that will see the development of a roof-mounted solar PV system for a Capital Assets building; the completion of a feasibility study to assess geothermal backup generation; the installation of energy efficiency measures in homes, businesses and Capital Asset buildings; and the execution of a broad-based community energy education program to enable residents to learn about renewable generation, conservation opportunities, and other ways to reduce energy costs.

Lees hit the ground running. Since she came on board, she’s already conducted energy audits; upgraded lighting systems; added weather stripping, wind barriers and caulking; installed smart thermostats in high-priority facilities; and created an image library of the community’s eight Capital Asset buildings. She is also working with residents and local business owners to tackle energy-related challenges.

One of the things Lees really appreciates is the flexibility that accompanies the CEC role. “I’m allowed to be creative in how I approach and execute these projects, using skills I learned during my education as well as on-the-job learning,” she says. “I provide strong rationales to Chief and Council when proposing energy related projects. As a result, I earn their trust and they provide me with lots of room to innovate.”

She has high praise for the training and skills development opportunities she’s received as a CEC, including both IESO resources as well as information from other groups such as the Indigenous Clean Energy Network, the Ogemawahj Tribal Council and others. Her key contact at the IESO is CEC program analyst Saeed Mohamed, who is just as enthusiastic about the work as Lees. “Watching local energy experts become champions within their communities and pillars within the energy sector is really gratifying,” he says. “Helping them achieve success is what it’s all about.”

Although she’s not one to toot her own horn, she has some advice for fellow CECs: don’t be intimidated by the job. “The role comes with a lot of responsibility but there are lots of ways to help,” she notes. “There are days when I feel like there’s a lot on my plate, but I want to see the community succeed – and that makes it all worthwhile.”