Thunder Bay

Wataynikaneyap Power, federal government sign funding agreement

The federal government has formally thrown its support behind a major power transmission project that aims to connect 17 remote First Nation communities to Ontario's power grid.

Construction on first phase expected to begin this fall

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan and Wataynikaneyap Power CEO Margaret Kenequanash take part in a media event at the Wataynikaneyap Power office on Fort William First Nation on Monday morning. (CBC News)

The federal government has formally thrown its support behind a major power transmission project that aims to connect 17 remote First Nation communities to Ontario's power grid.

The government on Monday announced Monday it had signed an agreement with Wataynikaneyap Power, which would see the government invest $1.6 billion into the project.

"It's very important that we have completed the documentation of the funding framework, that was announced back in March of 2018," Wataynikaneyap Power CEO Margaret Kenequanash said Monday at the company's office on Fort William First Nation.

"It's very essential to the financing model that we have negotiated," she said. "The funding that has been announced by the government of Canada will enable our First Nations to move forward with the project.

Wataynikaneyap Power is owned by 24 First Nations, in partnership with Fortis; the latter will also oversee the actual construction.

Each of the 17 First Nations the project intends to connect to the power grid are currently relying on diesel generators for power. The project will create more than 760 jobs, the company said.

Kenequanash said she hopes work on phase one will begin in the fall. She said the goal is to have the project completed by 2024.

"We've been at this for well over 10 years," she said. "We can't just let it drag on, and drag on, because it affects that business model that we've established, and the funding frameworks that we've established."

"It will be a benefit to everyone, not just the First Nations."

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan, who was in Thunder Bay for Monday's announcement, said the First Nations communities are leading the project.

"Eventually, over the course of years, Indigenous parties will be able to take over full control," he said. "[The federal government] came forward with money to connect Pikangikum, and that will be the first community, and eventually the other communities will follow."

"And I think the important thing is, too, is not only will they be hooked up to clean electricity through the Ontario power grid, but they'll be getting off diesel," O'Regan said. "And that's really important."

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