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Wataynikaneyap Power signs agreement with Aecom

A new energy company is planning and permitting a transmission line into Ontario's Far North to power up an underground mine and connect remote Aborginal communities that exist on expensive diesel generation.
Eighteen northwestern Ontario First Nations have signed on with Wataynikaneyap Power as signatories on an agreement with Goldcorp's Musselwhite Mine to deliver to the remote communities by 2017.

A new energy company is planning and permitting a transmission line into Ontario's Far North to power up an underground mine and connect remote Aborginal communities that exist on expensive diesel generation.

A group of 18 northwestern Ontario First Nations have teamed up on a joint venture with Goldcorp, operators of the Musselwhite Mine, to carry out a $1-billion project to beef up power capacity in the region.

Wataynikaneyap Power (Watay Power) has a two-phase plan that begins with stringing a 230-kV transmission line 300-kilometre long north from Dryden to Pickle Lake by 2016, and eventually further north into the communities of the James Bay region by 2017.

The early stages of an environmental assessment for the first phase is underway and a corridor study is examining options for the second phase.

In October, Watay Power signed a memorandum of understanding with Aecom, who brought in Sudbury's PowerTel and Deutsche Bank to provide design, construction, operation and financial services for the project.

The project could create as many as 1,100 construction jobs and deliver training opportunities for area First Nations. Watay Power is currently 50 per cent owned by the 18 First Nations in conjunction with Goldcorp.

Over time, First Nation ownership will gradually increase for it to become an entirely Aboriginal- owned enterprise.

“This project, on the scale that it is, is probably a first in Canada with industry partnering with First Nations on a common goal that all parties will come up benefitting,” said Adele Faubert, Goldcorp's manager of a original affairs at the Musselwhite Mine.

Musselwhite Mine, located 480 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, is fed power from an antiquated 115- kV line that runs from the Ear Falls Generating Station to Pickle Lake and over a private line into the mine site.

The discovery of new gold reserves will extend the mine life to 2028 meaning Goldcorp needs additional power to extend its underground ventilation. The 70-year-old line doesn't supply Goldcorp's current or future power demands, Faubert said, which has forced the miner to resort to diesel generation to supplement its needs.

This business venture was born out of a 1996 agreement. Musselwhite was one of the first mines in Ontario to sign an impact and benefit agreement with local First Nations. The pact was updated in 2001.

For Aboriginal people, getting connected to the Ontario grid has been a longstanding priority.

“When Goldcorp talked to the communities about their energy needs (in 2008) that's when the discussion started about forming partnerships among the First Nations,” said Margaret Kenequanash, chair of Wataynikaneyap Power.

Only three of 18 signatory communities in Watay Power are connected to the Ontario grid. The rest are reliant on diesel generation with five communities under load restrictions, which has stunted community growth and economic development opportunities.

Brownouts and blackout are a regular occurrence, she said.

“We're at the crossroads where we really have to address the energy needs of the First Nations.” Trucking fuel over a shortened winter road season — and the potential environmental hazards that come with it is — something the communities no longer want to entertain, said Kenequanash.

The Ontario Power Authority has determined the cost of diesel generation in remote communities is three to 10 times more than the average cost of power in Ontario.

“The costs and the needs (for diesel fuel) are only escalating in the communities,” said Kenequanash. More importantly, she said, creating this new infrastructure is a quality of life issue.

“We have to look at the basic needs of our communities which every Canadian takes for granted in the modern amenities that they have.

“Yes, it will cost lot of money but we have to weigh the project in terms of what it will deliver for the future in business and economic development.”

Once the grid is extended, Faubert said it lays the groundwork for hydroelectric development. Some communities have applications before government for run-of-the-river systems of between 100 and 300 megawatts of potential generation.