$1.6 Billion Expansion of Ontario Power Grid to Northern First Nations

Watay Power Announcement - March 22 2018
Minister Jane Philpott Watay Power Announcement – March 22, 2018

THUNDER BAY – BUSINESS – It was a standing room only crowd on hand to hear an announcement that will bring 17 Northern Ontario First Nation Communities onto the power grid. For generations, many northern communities have relied on diesel-powered generators to keep the lights on, and the heat on. Today’s announcement brings the hope of positive change and stable power which will enhance the quality of life.

In a media statement, Wataynikaneyap Power says it is “One of the most ambitious and transformative infrastructure projects in Canada’s history got the green light today with the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario announcing funding for the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Line Project (“the Project”) in the aggregate amount of $1.6 billion. The funding framework allows for a viable transmission business with First Nations and Fortis Inc. participating as the equity investors. The project will connect remote First Nations in Northwestern Ontario to Ontario’s power grid, provide for savings associated with avoided diesel costs, and socio-economic benefits to the communities.”

The funding announcement is the culmination of years of on-going negotiations and discussions since area Chiefs were mandated with the investigation of connecting remote communities to the provincial transmission grid, premised on eventual 100% First Nations ownership.

Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, and the Honourable Glenn Thibeault, Ontario Minister of Energy, announced the $1.6 billion in federal funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 First Nations to the provincial power grid. In addition, Ontario will apply existing ratepayer subsidies to support transmission connection and distribution costs.

“Today’s announcement reinforces the vision of our elders who signed onto the treaty to share in the benefits of any major development that occurs in the homelands, originally contemplated by the First Law,” says Margaret Kenequanash, CEO of Wataynikaneyap Power. “It also brings us to another significant milestone to achieve the aspirations of our people.”

“The federal government is proud to support this historic Indigenous-led transmission project. This project became a reality because of the leadership of Wataynikaneyap Power and the federal and provincial commitment to work with First Nation communities to improve health and socioeconomic outcomes,” says The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada. “This will provide a future of positive change for these communities alongside a cleaner and more reliable energy supply.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne at announcement for Watay Power
Premier Kathleen Wynne at announcement for Watay Power

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne released the following statement today: “Today, I was in Thunder Bay to mark a historic step on our path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The federal and Ontario governments are partnering with 22 First Nations to provide funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial power grid.

Ontario and First Nations partners have been working towards this day for many years. I want to thank our federal partner for coming to the table and helping us make this happen.

When complete in 2023, the Wataynikaneyap Power Grid Connection Project will be the largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned infrastructure project in Ontario history. It will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs. Access to clean, reliable and affordable electricity will open up new economic opportunities. It will lower the cost of housing and help ensure a clean supply of drinking water. It will mean cleaner air and a healthier place to live right now — and in the future.

I want to thank the 22 First Nations whose leadership and vision made this project possible. The way this project came into being as an Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned initiative has given us a roadmap for the kind of nation-to-nation relationships that we need to keep building. And it sends a message to Indigenous youth that you don’t have to leave your community behind to find opportunity, and you can develop a career there in engineering, or in a skilled trade, or as a senior manager in a major construction project.

The other important message we are sending today is that reconciliation, fairness, and equality are no longer just words — they are actions. We are walking this journey, together.

Recently, Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation celebrated its 10-year anniversary. We have looked long and hard at the pain and injustices of the past, and we are taking real steps to do better. We are showing that we care about the future of Indigenous communities and the opportunities that will be available to Indigenous youth. And we are moving forward, together, with Indigenous partners leading the way.

Today is a great day. We are building the kind of Canada that we know is possible. And we are building it together.”

First Nation Ownership

Frank McKay at Watay Power Announcement
Frank McKay at Watay Power Announcement

The Wataynikaneyap Power partnership consists of 22 First Nations who are leading this project and equally own 51%, while industry partner, Fortis Inc. (“Fortis”), owns 49% of the project. 17 of the 22 First Nations Wataynikaneyap Power communities currently rely on diesel generators which have become financially unsustainable, environmentally risky and inadequate to meet community needs. A majority of the remote communities are at capacity with their diesel generators or face electrical load restrictions limiting the construction of homes and other critical infrastructure that would support community growth.

Ontario Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault
Ontario Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault

“Connecting remote First Nation communities to Ontario’s safe, clean and reliable electricity grid is a priority for the Province, and is a key part of our plan to create fairness and opportunity for all Ontarians,” says Minister Glenn Thibeault, Ontario Minister of Energy. “By eliminating dependency on costly diesel generation, the Wataynikaneyap Power Project will create new economic opportunities and greatly improve the quality of life in these remote First Nation communities. This project is an important step in Ontario’s journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

“Utilities can play an important role in the social and economic development of First Nations communities in our country,” says Barry Perry, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fortis Inc. “Fortis is pleased to bring its expertise to the table in the construction and operation of 1,800 km of transmission lines. Once complete, the lines will provide reliable electricity to the communities and help improve the lives of thousands of community members.”

The funding framework goals include connection of remote First Nations communities, capacity building and the establishment of a viable transmission business to be eventually owned and operated 100% by First Nations.

In addition to the significant savings associated with the avoided cost of diesel generation, the Project is estimated to create 769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socio-economic value. These include lower greenhouse gas emissions (more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions are estimated to be avoided), as well as improved health of community members, and ongoing benefits from increased economic growth.

“This Project will redefine the relationships and the landscape of how business must be conducted with the First Nations through creating a sustainable First Nation equity position overall,” says Kenequanash. “This provides the foundation for the communities to participate meaningfully in the economic prosperity of this country. We would like to thank both levels of government who’ve supported our vision of owning a major infrastructure in our homelands. Now we need to get the line that brings light into the communities. These are exciting times!”

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day released a statement on the events of the day: “On behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario, and the 133 First Nations that make up our Assembly, I want to acknowledge the leadership and dedication of the Watay Power Executive, led by board chair Frank McKay and CEO Margaret Kenequanash

“Today’s announcement of $1.6 billion in funding to complete the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project to 17 communities by 2023 is truly Reconciliation in action and an historic day. Sustainable, reliable hydropower will allow these communities to join the 21st century with all Ontarians and Canadians.

“There are 22 First Nation communities working together and controlling development of infrastructure within their traditional lands is unprecedented, and will be a catalyst for greater prosperity and economic self-determination. Reliable power means good housing, clean water, economic development, education, healthcare, food security – the list goes on. The benefits are enormous and will create happy, healthy communities for future generations.

“To the leaders who make up the Watay Board – congratulations on this huge success; it will be one of this country’s most important infrastructure developments of this century! Over the past decade, these leaders have remained focussed; steadfast, and disciplined – asserting their treaty authority and upholding their responsibilities to the next generation!

“Now that’s something to be proud of!!

“To Ontario, Canada and the Watay Power Private Sector Partners – congratulations to you for having a hand in making reconciliation a reality, and for being part of the recognition of our First Nations rightful place in a 21st-century economy. Together, in partnership, you are working towards improved quality of life of the 22 communities in the project region!

Watay is a shining example of the Spirit, Intent, and Implementation of the treaties! Best Wishes to the Chiefs, as you work toward the next milestone in this magnificent venture!! Miigwetch Watay!”