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Massive federal funding energizes Watay Power project

Ottawa provides $1.6 billion to advance northwest transmission line project
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PowerTel Utilities photo

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler applauded a “landmark funding” announcement by Ottawa on March 22 for a pivotal First Nation-led infrastructure project in northwestern Ontario and the Far North.

Wataynikaneyap Power (Watay Power) was awarded $1.6 billion to connect remote First Nation communities to the provincial power grid.

“This is a major achievement, and I honour the determination of Wataynikaneyap Power to bring reliable supplies of electricity to our remote First Nations,” said Fiddler in a statement.

“Wataynikaneyap has made tremendous progress connecting 16 remote First Nations to the provincial electricity grid in the first phase of this project, and we are pleased that Ontario has funded the expansion of this vital infrastructure to more remote communities. Connecting our remote First Nations to the provincial energy grid will finally end their reliance on costly and dirty diesel generation and help bring health and economic benefits to our communities.”

Watay Power was launched in 2015 to expand grid connections to remote First Nation communities. The 1,800-kilometre power transmission line project will connect these communities to Ontario’s grid in two phases.

Last August, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett was in Thunder Bay to announce up to $60.2 million in funding for Watay to build the first stretch, a 117-kilometre power line, to connect Pikangikum First Nation to the grid at Red Lake. That community will be hooked up by the end of this year.

PowerTel Utilities Contractors of Sudbury was chosen by Watay last December to build that first leg.

When the 16 fly-in and diesel power-dependent communities are fully plugged in by 2023, an estimated 14,000 people will have a reliable source of power, saving about $1 billion in energy costs over 40 years.

Wataynikaneyap is a licensed transmission company, regulated by the Ontario Energy Board, equally owned by 22 First Nation communities (51 per cent), in partnership with Fortis (49 per cent).

FortisOntario Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortis, and an electricity transmission and distribution utility holding company based in Ontario, owns 49 per cent of the general partner of Wataynikaneyap Power and acts as the project manager.