By Michael Lynch
The Northwest Energy Association has announced a massive three-phase, $9-billion energy project that could generate up to $24 billion in revenue through increased economic activity.
The spinoffs for northwestern Ontario will be widespread, says Larry Hebert, Thunder Bay Hydro general manager.
"Residents of northwestern Ontario will see 4,000 to 5,000 jobs created as a result of the project," Hebert says.
The project, known as Northwest Energy Works, includes a new generation plant in Thunder Bay. The grid from northern Manitoba will be brought along two main highway corridors and extended east to Sudbury.
"There will be at least three connections to U.S. markets," Hebert says.
New grid connections will be made to all First Nation communities that want to have them, and to the current Hydro One grid, or the new Northwest Energy Association grid.
The NEA is made up of six municipal utilities from Atikokan, Fort Frances, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Terrace Bay and Thunder Bay.
The new generation plant will eventually generate up to 1,120 megawatts. It will use petroleum coke, a by-product from oil sands refining in Alberta.
"There are millions of tonnes of petroleum coke available," says James Sprangers of Synfuel, the U.S. company designing the plant.
Plans are to have the Thunder Bay plant running within two years, producing 120 megawatts. The plant will add 500 megawatts in four years, and another 500 megawatts sometime in the future.
Hebert says new hydroelectric plants in northern Manitoba will deliver "low-cost power" to northern Ontario using two separate lines. One line will run through the Kenora area on the Highway 17 corridor, another line will run from Winnipeg to Fort Frances and Atikokan on the Highway 11 corridor.
From Thunder Bay, two lines will move power east. One line will see power shipped along Highway 1l through Geraldton, Hearst and Kapuskasing. The other line on the Highway 17 corridor will move power through Nipigon, Terrace Bay and Marathon.
"If stopped, one of the lines will connect to other line via the Hornepayne Highway and meet the other line which will carry on to Sudbury," Hebert says. "This additional power for Sudbury's industry will also serve to twin up with the grid from the south."
The plan also calls for exporting power from Thunder Bay to Pigeon River and then east under Lake Superior to the Keweenaw Peninsula. "This will provide both Illinois and Michigan the ability to purchase our energy at prevailing prices," Hebert says.
Hebert says a significant part of NEA's plan is to send power to northern First Nation communities. These communities currently use diesel generators for electricity. Utilizing the grid would reduce their power cost by almost 90 per cent, he says.
Power from the grid, Hebert says, would also allow isolated First Nation communities to participate in the development of forestry, mining and other industries.