Thunder Bay

Wataynikaneyap First Nations-led power company moves ahead

A First Nations-led transmission company that aims to connect remote communities in northern Ontario to the provincial hydro grid gained two new partners on Thursday.

Sandy Lake, Wabigoon First Nations join initiative to extend power transmission line in remote north

Margaret Kenequanash, chair of Wataynikeyap Power says First Nations will ensure responsible development in their homelands while maximizing benefits to the communities. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A First Nations-led transmission company that aims to connect remote communities in northern Ontario to the provincial hydro grid gained two new partners on Thursday.

Sandy Lake First Nation and Wabigoon First Nation signed on with Wataynikaneyap Power at a board meeting for the company in Thunder Bay, bringing the number of ownership communities to 20.

All of the First Nations involved currently rely on diesel generators for electricity in their communities. The $1-billion project would see the transmission line extending north of Pickle Lake, and Red Lake, Ont. to connect the First Nations.

"For us it's clean energy," said Sandy Lake Chief Bart Meekis. "We want to get off diesel fuel energy that I think is really contaminating our lands."

A more reliable power supply will also open up new opportunities for more housing and businesses in Sandy Lake, Meekis said.

"The term that we always hear is that we live off the land," Meekis said. "It doesn't just mean fish and animals, it means that the land is looking after us as a people and part of it is to be able to benefit and prosper as a people in our lands."

In the development phase Wataynikaneyap Power is a partnership among the 20 First Nations, AECOM, PowerTel, Goldcorp and Deutsche Bank, but the aim is for the transmission line to be wholly owned by First Nations.

"To have 20 First Nations to agree to work together on a major initiative is unprecedented," said Wataynikaneyap Power chair Margaret Kenequanash. 

"I truly believe in my people that we were put on this land to be part of the economy," she said. "We have a treaty with governments so as part of our exercise of those rights that we have then we will move forward with changing the landscape of Canada."

Connecting First Nations to the grid is expected to save $1 billion in energy costs over 40 years, Kenequanash said.

Ontario recently approved the terms of reference for the environmental assessment of the first phase of the project to begin. Kenequanash said that clears the way for formal community consultations with the First Nations.

On mobile? Click here to see the proposed route of the Wataynikaneyap Power project.

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