FortisOntario has taken a bigger ownership stake in a First Nations-driven power transmission project in northwestern Ontario.
The Toronto-based utility announced Dec. 15 that it has an agreement to increase its ownership share in the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project by acquiring the interest of Renewable Energy Systems Canada (RES).
FortisOntario's equity in the limited partnership will increase to 49 per cent, while the 22 First Nations communities involved in Wataynikaneyap Power LP (Watay Power) will continue to hold a controlling 51 per cent interest.
Though RES has agreed to sell its holdings in the limited partnership, the company will remain involved as a “service provider” to the $1.35 billion project.
The transaction is subject to approval by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), expected in the first quarter of 2017.
The aim of this massive project is to extend Ontario’s transmission grid to 17 remote First Nation communities and replace expensive and unclean diesel-powered generation in each community.
The first phase involves beefing up the capacity of the power line to Pickle Lake, and then extending new lines northward to the remote communities.
The project’s first phase will be completed by 2020, the second phase by 2024.
Last summer, Watay Power was chosen as the licensed transmitter to undertake the project.
"FortisOntario firmly believes in the mission and our collective mandate with First Nations to connect communities to the provincial electricity transmission system,” stated company president-CEO Scott Hawkes, whose is also the president of Watay Power. “Not only will this reduce reliance on high-cost diesel for power, but it will also serve as a platform for further infrastructure and socio-economic development in the North."
FortisOntario owns and operates Canadian Niagara Power, Cornwall Street Railway, Light and Power Company Limited and Algoma Power, serving a combined 65,000 customers.
"This is a transformational project,” said Margaret Kenequanash, executive director of Shibogama First Nation Council, and chair of Watay Power, in a release. “Along with Fortis Ontario's participation, First Nations ownership will not only ensure responsible development of infrastructure in our traditional homelands, but it 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."
Watay Power's next steps will be to apply to the OEB for Leave to Construct the project, as well as to complete all necessary environmental assessment work.
Construction begins in 2018, pending permitting, approvals, and a cost-sharing agreement between the federal and provincial government.