Residents of 21 remote First Nations communities are being given an opportunity to comment on a plan to extend power transmission lines to their communities. Wataynikaneyap Power is hosting community consultations on Phase 2 of a project to connect communities north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake to the Ontario power grid.
“Wataynikaneyap is holding these engagement meetings in the First Nation communities to provide information on the project, the preliminary corridor routing studies, and initial environmental assessment considerations,” company board member Frank McKay said in an email to The Chronicle-Journal.
“Importantly, the project team would like to hear community member’s concerns and collect feedback on the project and its planning. The information collected in these engagement meetings will help us to prepare an initial design for the project and to understand what should be included in the environmental assessment.”
As of April 29, 12 of 21 communities had been visited in this round of community engagement. Plans to consult with the remaining nine communities are ongoing.
McKay explained that the First Nation community engagement meetings taking place are one of the first steps in studying the environment and learning from the people who know the lands and wildlife best.
“Potential effects on First Nation harvesting activities and land use, and wildlife concerns have been identified and these will be addressed through a comprehensive environmental assessment process and ongoing engagement with communities and individuals,” he said. “The urgent need for power and the potential employment and economic opportunities the project would generate for our communities were also raised.”
Twenty First Nations are the majority owners of Wataynikaneyap Power; 16 of them currently rely on costly and hazardous diesel generated electricity.
McKay said that these communities are currently served by dirty diesel generation, which is unaffordable and prone to frequent and sometimes long outages.
Many remote First Nation communities are facing electrical load-restrictions, due to having reached or rapidly approaching capacity with their diesel generators, he said, adding that some communities are no longer able to provide electricity to new homes or build community infrastructure that would enable them to flourish.
“The lack of an adequate power supply greatly impacts living conditions and ultimately places the health and safety of the people at an even greater risk,” he added.
McKay also noted that continued reliance on diesel generation also has the potential to impact the air, land and waters through the delivery of diesel fuel over winter road systems that continue to deteriorate every year from climate change.
“The winter road season this year was one of the shortest in history and many of our communities could not transport their fuel supply due to in-adequate and unsafe ice conditions. The communities will now have to contend with the additional costs of bringing in their diesel fuel supply by plane,” he said.
Getting rid of diesel power generation is also expected to improve community health and local vegetation.
Another goal of the project, McKay said, is First Nations ownership of the transmission line, and maximum employment and business opportunities for First Nations during construction and operation of the line.
During the construction period, the project will create roughly 261 jobs in Northwestern Ontario and almost 769 across Canada.
Project construction will create new business opportunities and skills development for local communities, McKay said, and once operational, the Wataynikaneyap Power Project will also help alleviate load growth restrictions, which hinder economic growth in the region.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that developing and operating a transmission line connecting the 16 Wataynikaneyap remote communities to the grid will result in a net value of approximately $1 billion over continued diesel generation from 2021-2060.
The cost of connecting the 16 remote reserves to the power grid is estimated at $1.35-billion – for a 1,800-kilometre transmission line, broken into two phases.
The first phase includes a 300-km transmission line from the Wabigoon area to Pickle Lake at a cost of $200 million.
Phase Two consists of transmission lines to connect the communities north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake at a cost of approximately $1.15 billion. Wataynikaneyap Power is hoping to start construction on the project by 2018.
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