A new energy conference is pairing up First Nations communities with companies that could provide solutions to power problems.
Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Achneepineskum attended the first Matawa First Nations energy conference in Thunder Bay on Monday in order to learn more about different trends in providing power. Many First Nation communities including Marten Falls aren’t connected to any electrical grids and rely on other forms of power like diesel fuel to provide electricity.
The continued use of expensive and unreliable diesel-fired generators to produce electricity on remote aboriginal reserves isn’t jut bad for air-quality, says Matawa First Nations. The Thunder Bay-based agency says a lack of clean reliable power sources severely limits the ability of bands located in Ontario’s far north to plan and develop economic projects.
“The use of diesel for energy has halted community and economic growth,” Eabametoong First Nation Chief Elizabeth Atlookan said Monday in a Matawa news release.
“Our goal is to have a community driven energy plan with the support of government to be off diesel.”
The conference gives companies a chance to present alternative power solutions to First Nation communities.
Eabametoong, located about 350 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is among five Matawa reserves not connected to the provincial energy grid.
Atlookan noted long-term economic forecasts suggest the cost of diesel will rise over the next 25 years.
“We are already having difficulty keeping up the cost to ship diesel and run aging plants,” she said.
Achneepineskum said since Marten Falls is close to where the proposed Ring of Fire is, he hoped to hear at the conference about potential developments and start forming partnerships. He said it was a chance for communities to broaden their horizon’s and find out what can and cannot work for remote First Nations.
“For Marten Falls for example, we live in an area where there is potential for hydro electrical development,” he said. “That needs to be explored. I’m sure all the information out there has been collected but it is time for government and industry to come to First Nations and say ‘this is what we found and this is a potential opportunity that we may roll out and we want you to do a part of.’”
He said he was disappointed no one from the provincial or federal governments was at the conference.
“What we need is the other party at the table and continuing to talk with the First Nations,” he said. “That’s industry, government and First Nations to make this work.”
A representative of the Ontario Ministry of Energy is expected to attend the second day of the conference today.
Jeff Schnuerer, a senior analyst with the Independent Electricity System Operator, which is a Crown corporation, said he was there to speak with communities in order to create a plan. He said a lot of economic development is tied to electricity. He gave the example of potential pipelines coming in and how they need pumping stations to run them.
Schnuerer said ensuring both the federal and provincial governments are on the same page is a big challenge when moving forward on developments.
The province has said earlier that it would spend $1 billion on infrastructure in the far north, but that money was expected to be tied the Ring of Fire about 550 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
The expectation that the Ring of Fire will be developed soon has dimmed of late, mainly due to depressed metal prices.
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