Pikangikum, Ont., 1st remote community connected to provincial power grid
Power line allows for more development in community, gets 3,000 people off diesel power
The lights shine a little brighter in Pikangikum, Ont., as the remote First Nation of 3,000 people is now connected to Ontario's power grid.
It's a big deal — with work taking a year to build the 99 kilometre line from Red Lake, Ont., north.
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Pikangikum, about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, was one of 17 communities, not accessible by road, that relied solely on diesel generators for its electricity.
"The mandate that we received is to bring reliable energy into the north," said Margaret Kenequanash, the CEO of Wataynikaneyap Power.
"I think this is a mark, of the first one that's connected. We're going to be energizing the whole north."
Kenequanash said with 16 communities still to be hooked up to the grid as part of the project, she wants people who live in remote communities to have hope that reliable electricity sources are on their way.
"I think it's a reassurance to other First Nations that we are going to build this line up north," she continued. "Yes, there are ongoing challenges and issues that we deal with on a regular basis, but, if there's a will there's a way, and we're going to build this line and energize the north."
'A totally new lifestyle'
To celebrate the connection on Thursday, for the first time in over a decade, Pikangikum had a large Christmas tree set up with lights. Prior to the grid connection, frequent brownouts limited the amount of electricity people could use. Moratoriums were put on non-essential electrical use, which included Christmas lights.
Wataynikaneyap Power gave Chief Dean Owen a number of Christmas lights to be distributed throughout the community, signifying the connection to stable and clean electricity.
"This will be a totally new lifestyle for us. We'll get adjusted to how much difference it will be," he said.
He said the community was unable to build new homes, as there was no electricity available to bring new homes onto the grid. Owen said 400 homes are needed to help ease the housing shortage in Pikangikum.
"It means a lot of things to us. Each person would have to have lived on this reserve to know the importance and the significance of having an inadequate supply of electricity for our infrastructure needs."
Owen said Pikangikum burned through between 12,000 to 15,000 litres of diesel fuel per day. The majority of the fuel was flown into the remote community, at a high cost, just to keep the lights on.
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"If we can have this, the rest of our neighbours, First Nations need this too," he said, referring to the plan to connect other remote First Nations.
"But overall, it's excitement, everybody's excited about it, and there's many elders that we have that had once heard we would be connected, and this is something that they'll have finally seen happen."