Thunder Bay

Federal government spends $35M to build new biomass generation facility in Whitesand First Nation

Decades after it was first proposed, Whitesand First Nation in northwestern Ontario has received $35 million from the federal government to help it move forward on a bio-fuel project that promises jobs, economic growth and a transition away from diesel fuel.

The First Nation in northwestern Ontario first proposed the project in 1992

Two men speak to one another in a glass-panelled room.
Allan Gustafson, chief of Whitesand First Nation in northwestern Ontario, speaks to Natural Resources Canada Minister Jonathan Wilkinson following the federal government's announcement of $35 million for the First Nation's new biomass electricity generation project. (Logan Turner/CBC)

Whitesand First Nation has received essential funding to help them move forward on a bio-fuel project that promises jobs, economic growth and a transition away from relying on diesel fuel for heat and electricity generation.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced $35 million to support the development of a combined heat and power facility using locally-sourced wood waste. He was in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Tuesday to make the announcement during a meeting with the city's chamber of commerce.

The facility will be located in Whitesand First Nation, a community with about 400 people living on its reserve located 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Still at least a few years away from being operational, the facility is expected to generate 6.5 megawatts for a local micro-grid that powers the First Nation as well as the surrounding communities of Armstrong and Collins. The facility will also provide heat and power to a new wood pellet plant and a fully-electric wood merchandising yard.

"It's a big deal for our community that we got the funding to move forward," said Whitesand Chief Allan Gustafson.

The project could create more than 100 jobs in the remote region in northwestern Ontario, Gustafson said, and help the community reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

"1.3 million litres of fuel we use [every] year, all these years we've been burning so much, and this will cut down the emissions," he added.

WATCH | Wilkinson commits to help Indigenous communities transition from diesel:

Why Ottawa is spending $35M on renewable energy in northwestern Ontario

3 months ago
Duration 1:54
Minister of Natural Resources makes an announcement in Thunder Bay for a renewable energy project in Whitesand First Nation

Whitesand first proposed the biomass electricity generation facility in 1992, Gustafson said, but the proposal was not accepted at the time. But they persisted in their vision for energy independence, and finally got the support they needed from the government to help them get to a point where shovels can hit the ground. 

"Finding ways to help remote communities, in particular Indigenous communities, get off diesel is a priority for the government," Wilkinson said in an interview with CBC News.

The government has funds set aside for Indigenous communities to look at the best possible options — be it wind, solar, biomass, geothermal or other — for them to transition to cleaner sources of energy.

Wilkinson said it's something the government has to do, not only to help cut down emissions and address climate change, but also because Canada will have to double its production of "clean electricity" by 2050 in order to meet growing demands by industry and to hit the government's goal of a net-zero economy by 2050.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Turner

Journalist

Logan Turner has been working as a journalist for CBC News, based in Thunder Bay, since graduating from journalism school at UBC in 2020. Born and raised along the north shore of Lake Superior in Robinson-Superior Treaty Territory, Logan covers a range of stories focused on health, justice, Indigenous communities, racism and the environment. You can reach him at logan.turner@cbc.ca.

now