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Watay Power gets a federal funding jolt

Ottawa buys into grid connection for First Nation community
Transmission line

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler praised Ottawa on its “tremendous achievement” in providing funding to construct a power line to reach Pikangikum First Nation. 

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett was in Thunder Bay, Aug. 17, to announce up to $60.2 million in funding for Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Power to build a 117-kilometre power line with related infrastructure from Red Lake into the distribution system at Pikangikum.

Construction begins this fall and ends next fall.

Pikangikum is 100 kilometres northwest of Red Lake and is one of the larger First Nation communities in Northern Ontario with an on-reserve population of 2,300, with 75 per cent of the population is under the age of 25.

Watay is a licensed transmission company owned by 22 First Nation communities in a majority 51/49 per cent partnership with Fortis Ontario. Watay was established in August 2015 and was selected by the Ontario government to connect 16 diesel-dependent communities to the grid over the next few years.

Fiddler said hooking up communities to the grid eases the financial burdens these band councils are forced to pay for diesel, not to mention the environmental impacts.

“This is a significant step to help Pikangikum advance their community plan for growth and development. We look to our federal treaty partner to continue with infrastructure investments that will improve health and social conditions including housing, fire prevention services, and access to clean drinking water.”

In a federal government news release said this funding is a “significant first step” in Ottawa’s collaboration with the province to connect First Nations to the power grid and eliminate these communities’ reliance on diesel-powered generators.

Many of these communities have expanding populations and with local generators are at capacity, communities are unable to grow and economic development opportunities are not capitalized on.

The government said connecting these communities to the grid should cut six megatons worth of greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades.

“Today's announcement is a concrete example of First Nation, federal and provincial partners making real progress on the issues that will lead the way to better health and socio-economic outcomes,” said Bennett in a statement.

“Opening the door for better housing and future economic development will change the quality of life for the Pikangikum First Nation and bring hope to their community."

Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen was “thrilled” his community will have a reliable source of power.

“We look forward to a safer and healthier future with power for heat and light on a consistent basis. Pikangikum can now move forward with infrastructure, economic development, and community growth. It’s very exciting. We will now be able to turn on our Christmas lights in the Christmas days to come.”

Watay Power CEO Margaret Kenequanash called it an “exciting milestone” and is looking forward to seeing the project completed.

“This will open the door to addressing the larger energy crisis and the need to connect other remote First Nation communities.”