Rhonda Lee McIsaac
Commonities. It may not be an English word but Soren Hermansen, Danish farmer turned director of Samsø Energy Academy, has coined it to explain the bringing together of commodities and communities. By bringing these two concepts together the economy of Samsø Island has changed. Hermansen has travelled from Samsø Island to Haida Gwaii to share his community’s positive experiences after transforming from diesel hungry consumers to sustainable energy leaders.
The Danish Island of Samsø, located 15 kilometres off the Jutland Peninsula in the United Kingdom of Denmark, has been relying on its own resources for energy for almost 20 years. The islands’ 4000 residents have changed their thinking, their economy, and their dependence on fossil fuels.
“This is my home. It is very dear to me,” he says enthusiastically of Samsø Island to a group of Haida citizens and Haida Gwaii Residents. “It’s more beautiful than Haida Gwaii,” he says with a wide grin as an image reminiscent of Gaatsguusd North Beach at low tide projects onto the white screen behind him. 20 years ago, Samsø residents started talking about how to change the destiny of the islands. After a lot of discussions, planning, and work the results are night and day.
As Soren Hermansen shared his story, 40 community members from Haida Gwaii listened respectfully. The group connected with the story of another islander’s experiences. Over the hour and half interactive discussion they quickly identified with commonalities. The success of Samsø Island fueled their minds towards seeing a new possibility for Haida Gwaii.
“It’s the thinking that was the hard part,” says Soren Hermansen on the years it took to reach consensus and move projects forward. The communities pulled together to become owners in different modes of energy creation and ultimately changed their islands’ economy. The sources of energy harness the wind, sun, sea, farmland and grassland. The islanders are constantly looking at other ways to become self-sustaining energy producers.
Despite initial hesitation from islanders, community members cooperatively own wind turbines and they have become a personal income generator. To islanders “the wind turbines just sound like money in the bank now,” laughs Hermansen. He explains how such experiments often turned into successes. In another example, the community started using its abundant amount of straw as a form of fuel and as a renewable building material.
“I would like to consider the idea of having Samsø Island as our sister island,” said Ginaawaan Darin Swanson. “Samsø and Haida Gwaii have similar characteristics: we both live on an island far from a large electrical grid system; they have 4000 people on their island, we have 4000 people. The difference is, they are 100% powered on renewable energy, and we are 100% powered by fossil fuels! A stark comparison we need to change as Haida People. We can learn a lot from them.”
Swiilawiid Sustainability Society is already tracking those who are making a change by investing in renewable solutions. Swiilawiid hopes to chip away at the fact that 65% of Haida Gwaii’s total electricity comes from burning diesel. That is approximately 10 million litres a year, according to Swiilawiid’s research. Self-sufficiency is a means to independence, a model of community-owned sustainability, and an opportunity to be a leader in clean energy like Samsø Island.
“We are not one happy family, but we do sit down and discuss the future,” Hermansen elaborates. “We may not agree on everything but we can agree on job creation and a better, long-term economy”.
By networking and sharing their success story the Kingdom of Denmark is extending friendship to Haida Gwaii. Denmark further hopes to build a network of other islands that can come together to reconsider their unique energy situations. The relationships would enable small communities to face big issues together. This would empower the larger group to lobby governments locally, nationally and internationally to mitigate climate change on a global scale.
20/20 Catalyst Program
Ginaawaan met Soren Hermansen at the 20/20 Catalyst Program this past year. The three-month program connects each participant, called a ‘Catalyst’, to a network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Clean Energy Project Mentors and Coaching Specialists. Each specialist involved can connect First Nations to energy efficiency, solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal through both on and off-grid clean energy project developments.
The program aims to network with, share with, and teach ‘Catalysts’ about how they can engage their communities and participate in clean energy projects. The Danish example is showing the rest of the world how a shift in mindset can make going green more attainable and attractive.
For more information on Samsø Island and their successes and future plans, go to: www.energiakademiet.dk
For more information on the energy shift already happening on Haida Gwaii, go to: swiilawiid.org