Construction on the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line Project will begin in early 2019 after a historic $1.6 billion investment from the federal government. The provincial government will also apply existing ratepayer subsidies to support transmission connection and distribution costs.
“It is a significant milestone for us to continue to work on the project,” says Margaret Kenequanash, CEO of Wataynikaneyap Power. “It will help move it along in order for us to begin the construction in the first quarter of 2019.”
Kenequanash says the funding will enable Wataynikaneyap Power to look at critical elements of the project such as filing leaves-to-contruct and beginning discussions with investors and financiers for the project. The funding was announced on March 22 in Thunder Bay.
“Today’s announcement reinforces the vision of our Elders who signed onto the treaty to share in the benefits of any major development that occurs in the homelands, originally contemplated by the First Law,” Kenequanash says. “It also brings us to another significant milestone to achieve the aspirations of our people.”
Wataynikaneyap Power is owned by 22 First Nations, which equally own 51 per cent of the project, and Fortis Inc., which owns 49 per cent.
“The federal government is proud to support this historic Indigenous-led transmission project,” says Jane Philpott, minister of Indigenous Services Canada. “This project became a reality because of the leadership of Wataynikaneyap Power and the federal and provincial commitment to work with First Nation communities to improve health and socioeconomic outcomes. This will provide a future of positive change for these communities alongside a cleaner and more reliable energy supply.”
The Wataynikaneyap Power project will connect 16 of the 22 partner communities to the provincial electricity grid. The 16 communities currently rely on diesel-powered electricity generators.
“I have to congratulate Margaret Kenequanash, our CEO,” says Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris. “We are going to be eliminating all diesel generator stations in our communities, so that is a bonus.”
Morris says the communities are currently impacted by a variety of factors related to the diesel generators, including power outages, the high cost of hauling in fuel when supplies run out in November and December and a limit on the construction of homes and other critical infrastructure.
“It’s going to be a big change,” Morris says. “But on the other hand, it is going to make us as leaders of communities to start looking at protecting whatever lakes or rivers are there to be in control, because with this grid I think there is going to come economic development in all areas of whatever your mind can set on it.”
Regional Chief Isadore Day says the $1.6 billion investment in the Wataynikaneyap Power project “is truly reconciliation in action and an historic day.”
“Sustainable, reliable hydro power will allow these communities to join the 21st century with all Ontarians and Canadians,” Day says. “(The) 22 First Nation communities working together and controlling development of infrastructure within their traditional lands is unprecedented, and will be a catalyst for greater prosperity and economic self-determination. Reliable power means good housing, clean water, economic development, education, health care, food security – the list goes on. The benefits are enormous and will create happy, healthy communities for future generations.”
The Wataynikaneyap Power project will provide more than 14,000 people in the 16 communities with clean, safe and reliable energy and also expand infrastructure and economic development opportunities.
“Providing reliable sources of electricity is essential to remove barriers for Indigenous peoples,” says Bill Morneau, minister of Finance. “Connecting northern Ontario's First Nations to the existing power grid will open the door to new opportunities for economic development in these communities, and help strengthen them. This is the largest Indigenous-led infrastructure project in the history of the province, which speaks to the importance of our relationship, and our shared commitment to a brighter future for Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.”
The Wataynikaneyap Power project will also lower greenhouse gas emissions due to a reduction in diesel fuel use and offer substantial environmental benefits and cost-savings over the long term.
“Our government is committed to helping First Nations have access to a clean, reliable and sustainable source of power,” says Michael Gravelle, minister of Northern Development and Mines and Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP. “We congratulate all the partners involved in this project, which marks an important milestone to move forward on the largest investment in Indigenous infrastructure in our country’s history.”
The Wataynikaneyap Power project will create an estimated 769 jobs during construction and about $900 million in socio-economic value. The project includes about 1,800 kilometres of 230 kV, 115 kV and 44 kV power lines.
“This project will redefine the relationships and the landscape of how business must be conducted with the First Nations through creating a sustainable First Nation equity position overall,” Kenequanash says. “This provides the foundation for the communities to participate meaningfully in the economic prosperity of this country. We would like to thank both levels of government who’ve supported our vision of owning a major infrastructure in our homelands.
Now we need to get the line that brings light into the communities. These are exciting times.”
Wataynikaneyap Power is currently constructing a 117-kilometre transmission line to Pikangikum, which is scheduled for completion in late 2018.