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Communities on the Move: Validus Power eyes opportunity in the North

Iroquois Falls is the latest beneficiary of the company's data centre ambitions
Validus Power Corp. cut the ribbon on its project at the Iroquois Falls Power Plant on May 26. Pictured are (from left) Kristina Garth, executive assistant at Validus; Todd Short, president and CEO at Validus; Tory Delaurier, mayor at Iroquois Falls; Osei Bosompem, town CAO; and Brian Finner, Iroquois Falls' director of recreation services.

A new data centre in Iroquois Falls is expected to be operational in early 2023, says Todd Shortt, president of Toronto-based Validus Power

And although he’s keeping the name of the partner under wraps for now — he confirmed it’s a data mining centre, like those used to generate bitcoin — Shortt says the region is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs, and wouldn’t be surprised if more power-hungry facilities look to set up shop in the area. 

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"You're going to see over the next 15 to 20 years… Northern Ontario is about to be the hub, for sure,” Shortt said. “And it’s in more ways than just mining.”

He pointed to a skilled workforce and the region’s average temperature as two attractive features for investors, noting that these data centres require enormous amounts of power just to cool their computer servers.

In August, Google had to shut down its London data centre for hours, snarling Google Cloud services across the continent, as a record-breaking heat wave spread across the UK.

And although temperatures across the North have been rising — Environment Canada pegs the average rise between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius — crippling heatwaves are a challenge that haven’t yet confronted the region.

“Remember, data centres like it cool,” Shortt said. “That's another great thing about Northern Ontario with these data centres: they love the cool weather. It saves a lot of money on the cooling system.

“We also have a very well-educated workforce that's currently very eager to get back to work or to start work,” he said. “It's relatively cheaper to live here; we have great internet connectivity. It's not bogged down, like in Toronto.”

The purchase of Iroquois Falls brings the number of power-generating facilities in Northern Ontario Validus owns to three — including sites in Kapuskasing and North Bay, both of which provide electricity to data centres.

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The Iroquois Falls plant — a 120-megawatt natural gas-fired generating facility — first launched commercial operations in 1997. When its deal to supply power to the province’s grid expired in 2021, Validus swooped in to purchase the site.

“Plans are flying,” Shortt said. “It's a large-scale operation, over 100 megawatts, while North Bay is a little over 30. So it's a big operation, and it's going great.”

This is all good news for the local economy, Shortt said, as the company is on target to hire at least 60 people to run the operation. That will be a boon to the community of 4,500, which still feels the effects following Resolute Forest Products' closure in 2014.

“They're doing interviews right now for the data centre management, repairs, maintenance,” Shortt said. “They need technicians, and millwrights. With all of the interviewing process going on now, we received hundreds of resumes for the area.

“So quite a great turnout.”

But the excitement that Validus is bringing to town doesn’t end with jobs. In August, Shortt announced a $2-million investment to develop a multi-use park in Iroquois Falls — named after his father-in-law — including a splash pad, basketball court, a combined tennis and pickle ball court, and beach volleyball area.

It is a facility the town desperately needed, which Shortt, originally from Englehart, knows about.

“I'm a very much Northern Ontario-focused individual,” Shortt said. “I take it personally, passionately, and I try to do as much as I can back in the North.

“My family's from forestry. I've been in forestry my whole life. And I just feel that it gets ignored.”

Validus contributed to a similar project in North Bay in conjunction with its data centre opening, and Shortt is hinting at future investments in the town of Kapuskasing. 

“It'll be great for the town. Great for the community,” Shortt said. “And I'm excited to do it up there. It’s another great facility.”