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Ontario First Nations plan power line to help remote communities get off diesel

The plan to extend Ontario's electricity lines to the remote northern parts of the province takes another step forward this month as consultation meetings take place in more than a dozen First Nations.

Wataynikaneyap Power project would connect 16 First Nations to Ontario's electricity grid

Featured VideoA new company in the northwest is meeting with First Nations this week to sort out a novel power dynamic. Wataynikaneyap Power plans to build a transmission line that will connect more than a dozen remote communities to Ontario's electricity grid.

The plan to extend Ontario's electricity lines to the remote northern parts of the province takes another step forward this month as consultation meetings are underway in more than a dozen First Nations.

Twenty First Nations are the majority owners of Wataynikaneyap Power — 16 of them currently rely on costly and hazardous diesel generated electricity.

That role puts the First Nations-led company in the unique position of conducting consultations with communities that are also its owners.

"I think it will help with the community because our diesel generator is not very reliable at times," said Donald Campbell, deputy chief at North Spirit Lake, who is also a board member with Wataynikaneyap.

Some community members say power outages are a regular occurrence, leaving homes, the school and businesses without electricity on a weekly basis, sometimes for days at a time.

"If the power line comes here it will save a lot of money," Campbell said, "because it costs us a lot of money just to get the fuel in and we can use that money elsewhere."

Impact on wildlife?

It costs about $1 million to pay for the 800,000 litres of fuel required to power the community of 400 for one year, according to the First Nation's public works manager. That doesn't include millions of dollars to operate and maintain the diesel generators.

A team of representatives from Wataynikaneyap visited North Spirit Lake on Tuesday to host a community meeting as part of the environmental assessment process for the project.

Campbell said some community members have expressed concerns that building the power lines will disrupt migration patterns for birds and animals people rely on for food.

Wataynikaneyap is still figuring out how to address those concerns, he said.

A community meeting is planned in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug on Wednesday and other First Nations throughout the month, in the lead up to an Ontario cabinet decision early in May.

That's when Wataynikaneyap is hoping two new bills will provide a green light for the project.

The goal is to finish Phase 1, which would create a new transmission line from Dinorwic, Ont., to Pickle Lake, Ont., in 2020 and connect the 16 First Nations by 2023.