Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is recommending that Hydro One move forward with the second phase of its Waasigan Transmission Line.
Waasigan is a 50/50 equity partnership with nine First Nations, including Eagle Lake First Nation, Fort William First Nation, Lac La Croix First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation, Nigigoonsiminkaaning First Nation, Ojibway Nation of Saugeen, Seine River First Nation, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, and Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation.
The project would see the construction of a transmission line between Atikokan and Dryden in northwestern Ontario, following the completion of the first stage, which extends from the Mackenzie transformer station east of Thunder Bay to Atikokan.
Ahmed Maria, the IESO's transmission planning director, said the additional 230-kilovolt transmission line is needed to meet the future electricity needs in northwestern Ontario’s mining sector.
Maria has recommended that phase two should be in service as close to the end of 2025 as possible.
“We spoke with businesses in the area, with communities, with First Nation communities as well, to understand how demand for electricity in that region is growing," Maria said.
"What we are forecasting is demand for electricity in the west of Thunder Bay will be increasing due to development of new mines, expansion of existing mines, and the electrification of mining activity."
Maria acknowledged that 2025 is a conservative timeline for the Waasigan transmission line to be completed in full, but he said that over the next decade northwestern Ontario will see a significant mining boom and the industry’s need for electricity will double.
Hydro One is currently reviewing the final route for the transmission line.
Some Kaministiquia-area residents have objected to the proposed route, which parallels an existing transmission line, because lines will cross onto their land and, in some cases, pass right over their houses.
When asked if concerns from a community group affected the recommendation, Maria said the role of the IESO is to supply companies like Hydro One with data on the demand for electricity across the province. Hydro One uses the data to work with affected communities on the routing of the line.
“It’s entirely within Hydro One’s responsibility to figure out the appropriate routing for the line,” said Maria.
Hydro One's project delivery director, Sonny Karunakaran, said the ISEO announcement is “fantastic news.”
“It gives us the green light and clarity on the expectations of when phase two is to be put into service,” said Karunakaran.
Karunakaran acknowledges that Hydro One still has some construction planned to do for phase two, but he is optimistic that the operator will be ready to start phase two as soon as phase one is energized.
The first phase of the Waasigan Transmission Line is currently on track to be completed closer to 2025, according to Karunakaran, although he admits that there are certain “things on the project that we’ll continually monitor and update on forecasted plans.”
The first phase still needs to go through an environmental assessment and comment period. Karunakaran said that a draft will be released in the coming weeks.
Afterwards, Hydro One will need to file for a leave to construct application with the Ontario Energy Board for both phases of the project, “all pointing toward activities with construction in 2024,” said Karunakaran.