TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Aug. 4, 2016) - Less than a week after the Ontario Government's decision to prioritize and designate Wataynikaneyap Power to connect remote First Nation communities that currently rely on diesel power to the province's electricity grid, another historic milestone has been reached.
Today, Wataynikaneyap Power will announce that Pikangikum First Nation and Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation will officially join the First Nations-led power project, bringing the number of First Nations communities who are equal owners in the project to 22.
"Relying on expensive, environmentally-unfriendly diesel fuel to provide power for basic needs like food, shelter and water, as well as limited generating capacity, has come at a huge price for our communities," says Margaret Kenequanash, Chair of Wataynikaneyap Power. "This is a transformational project. First Nations ownership will not only ensure responsible development of infrastructure in our traditional homelands, but the project will maximize the health, safety, environmental, social and economic benefits for those First Nations communities that have been unable to provide adequate infrastructure and services to their people."
Many communities, including Pikangikum, are currently living under electrical load restrictions, which means new homes cannot be connected, economic development is restricted, and communities often face rolling blackouts.
"It is critically important for the community to be connected to the Ontario power grid as soon as is reasonably possible. Safe and reliable power will open up the future for the people of Pikangikum," says Chief Dean Owen of Pikangikum First Nation. "Local social services will be able to function normally and support families in need. Real economic development will finally be possible, particularly in the resource development sector, including the Whitefeather Forest and local hydro-electricity projects. The environmental contamination at the diesel generator plant will finally be cleaned up. Our clear vision is that Pikangikum will be a safer and healthier place."
"We are absolutely thrilled to be part of this exciting venture in partnering with our northern sister First Nations," says Chief Whitecloud of the Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation. "We look forward to working alongside each other and standing strong together in our shared goals and vision of bettering the lives of our people and communities."
Wataynikaneyap Power is an unprecedented partnership of 22 First Nations who have joined together with private sector companies FortisOntario and Renewable Energy Systems Canada Inc. (RES) to build 1,800 km of transmission lines. The $1.35 billion project includes the grid reinforcement to Pickle Lake, and expanding the grid north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake to connect remote First Nations communities.
In addition to the 17 communities that will now be connected, other communities can be expected to be connected to the grid in the near future.
The connection of remote First Nation communities to clean electricity through transmission lines was identified in Ontario's 2013 Long Term Energy Plan. It is expected to save over $1 billion and is estimated to result in over 6.6 million tonnes of avoided CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.
"This is great news for Wataynikaneyap Power and all of the partners involved in this project," says Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines. "With the joining of Pikangikum First Nation and Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation as owners, this is another positive step forward for the project and a reflection of all the hard work the partners have been putting in to make this project a reality."
"Wataynikaneyap Power is making a critical contribution to First Nations, and northern Ontarians," says David Zimmer, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. "Expanding ownership means even more opportunity for First Nations to get off of diesel and onto the electricity grid. All Ontarians will benefit as more and more communities make the move to cleaner electricity. Pikangikum First Nation and Lac des Mille Lacs will make this important partnership even stronger."
In addition to continued dialogue with First Nations communities with a vested interest in the project, Wataynikaneyap Power's next steps will be to apply to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for Leave to Construct the project, as well as to complete all necessary environmental assessment work. Pending permitting, approvals, and a cost sharing agreement between the federal and provincial government, construction is expected to begin in 2018.
About Wataynikaneyap Power:
Wataynikaneyap Power is owned by 22 First Nations communities, FortisOntario, and RES. The partnership will develop new transmission facilities to connect remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario, currently powered by diesel generation, which has become financially unsustainable, environmentally risky, and inadequate to meet community needs. More information about Wataynikaneyap Power can be found at www.wataypower.ca.
Since 1997, RES has constructed more than 1,600 km of transmission lines, and over 8,500 MW of utility-scale renewable energy and energy storage projects, throughout Canada and the U.S. RES' corporate office in Canada is located in Montreal, Quebec with regional offices located in Oakville, Ontario. For more information, visit www.res-group.com/en/countries/canada/.
FortisOntario is an electric utility, which owns and operates Canadian Niagara Power Inc., Cornwall Street Railway Light & Power Company Ltd. and Algoma Power Inc., serving a combined 65,000 customers. FortisOntario also owns regulated transmission assets with approximately 3,430 km of distribution and transmission lines. FortisOntario is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fortis Inc. ("Fortis") (TSX: FTS), with total assets of approximately CAD$28 billion and fiscal 2015 revenue of CAD$6.7 billion, serving more than 3 million customers across Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. For more information, visit www.fortisinc.com or www.sedar.com.