Moving forward with a plan to build a modern, clean, reliable electricity system that Ontarians can count on

Michael Gravelle
file photo - Michael Gravelle

THUNDER BAY – Leader’s Ledger- Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle addressed the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chief’s Energy Conference held in Thunder Bay on January 31st. Here is the text of the address by Minister Gravelle:

Wá-chee-yeh ; Bów-zhow

Good afternoon, everyone. I appreciate the opportunity to join you. I am aware of the key role played by Nishnawbe Aski Nation in representing the aspirations of its 49 First Nation members. And I certainly know the importance of electrical energy to the development of NAN territory.

This conference is an excellent chance to address the issues related to providing affordable, sustainable energy to NAN communities. And today, I want to touch briefly on our government’s commitment to energy opportunities for First Nations and then focus on the work of my ministry.

Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan

Our government is moving forward with a plan to build a modern, clean, reliable electricity system that Ontarians can count on – the foundation for a strong economy.

Last year, Ontario’s updated, comprehensive Long-Term Energy Plan set a course to create thousands of jobs and spark economic growth, while helping to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

A key part of this plan includes encouraging opportunities for First Nation participation in the energy sector.

Ontario has launched several initiatives to support this goal.

They include: the Aboriginal Energy Partnerships Program; the Feed-in-Tariff Program in which 17 Aboriginal-led or partnered projects have contract offers; and the $250-million Aboriginal Loan Guarantee Program.

One of the biggest partnerships is with Moose Cree First Nation – a NAN member – at the $2.6-billion Lower Mattagami hydroelectric project.
The First Nation has up to a 25 per cent equity position with Ontario Power Generation.

The government is also certainly conscious of NAN’s interest, and the need for, extending the grid to remote First Nation communities.

Planning for the Northwest transmission connection to remote communities is well on its way under the Northwest Ontario First Nation Transmission Planning Committee (NOFNTPC).

And a new transmission line to Pickle Lake is one of the five priorities of the Long-Term Energy Plan – a crucial first step to making possible the connection of remote communities in the northwest.

The East-West tie between Nipigon and Wawa, also a priority in the LTEP, is moving ahead as we speak to provide a cost effective and reliable long-term supply to the Northwest.

And I also understand that consideration is being given to a line to serve the Nipigon area and I will certainly support that as the need for it evolves.

Renewable energy is a key part of Ontario’s supply mix, and can also be an important component of meeting the electricity needs of remote communities.

And it is in this area that my ministry’s efforts are focused.

Before turning to my ministry’s role, however, let me assure you that Ontario recognizes that successful participation by First Nation communities is vital to advancing many key energy projects identified under the plan.

MNR’s Role in Renewable Energy

My Ministry supports the government’s priority of increasing renewable energy opportunities on Crown land in a number of ways.

These opportunities can come from waterpower, wind power, solar power and biomass.  The Ministry of Natural Resources works with Aboriginal communities, the public and other stakeholders to make Crown land available to meet the long-term energy needs of government.

We look to the government’s Long-Term Energy Plan to tell us where renewable energy is needed, and what types of renewable energy are required, including transmission planning.
Then my ministry works to see how Crown land can help meet these needs.

I encourage NAN to continue working closely with the Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority – an important first step toward developing renewable energy opportunities.

Once broader energy planning decisions are made, my ministry also reviews renewable energy projects with partner ministries, to ensure that all projects are developed in an environmentally responsible manner.

My ministry also plays an important role in promoting First Nation participation in renewable energy.

Industrial growth and energy needs present an opportunity for First Nations’ participation as proponents or partners in both transmission and generation.

Since 2004, we have facilitated Aboriginal economic benefit opportunities from waterpower projects through our Crown land waterpower policy.

For many communities in the Far North, renewable energy, particularly from waterpower, represents a key opportunity for economic development.

It can help communities replace costly diesel-powered electricity generation.

Far North

However, it is in the Far North where issues such as the remoteness of communities and the lack of infrastructure are most keenly felt.

The Ontario government recognizes that First Nations in the Far North have a special relationship with the land – they understand it and have relied on it for centuries. The increasing pressure for development in recent years has highlighted the need to guide and plan wisely.

That’s why this government introduced the Far North Land Use Planning Initiative.

Under the initiative, First Nations and Ontario work jointly to identify which areas are to be protected and those which are open to opportunities for sustainable economic development.

Good land use planning leads to good development, which creates good jobs and a strong economy.
We want to ensure the region’s resources contribute to a more prosperous, healthy and sustainable future for its people and communities, while also protecting the unique ecology and vast boreal environment of the Far North of Ontario.

And while I firmly believe that we share the same goals, I do want to take this opportunity to emphasize our commitment to local decision making for each First Nation community as we move forward together.

Community Based Land Use Planning

The way to achieve this is through community based land use planning – a model that was actually developed with First Nations.

The First Nation community of Pikangikum worked with Ontario on the first community based land use plan in the Far North, which was signed in 2006.

At the heart of this planning process is the building of a relationship between First Nations and Ontario.

Plans are developed by a joint planning team with representation from both Ontario and First Nations, and use a consensus-based approach.

First Nations bring their knowledge of the land and resources to the table, while Ontario brings its science and information.

And this is a joint process: a plan cannot be finalized unless both First Nations and Ontario believe it meets their needs and interests – a requirement now enshrined in the Far North Act, 2010.

A completed plan proactively makes the decision about which areas in the Far North are suitable for economic development.

Once those areas have been identified, proponents can move forward with certainty knowing that the decision on that part of the development process has already been made.

They know that if their project is within an area that is open for development, the project is not only POSSIBLE, it is also WELCOME.

This provides certainty for developers and builds confidence for investors.

The Cat Lake-Slate Falls plan is an excellent example.

The First Nations identified areas where the following economic opportunities are possible:

  • Forest resources capable of creating commercial forest opportunity
  • Several areas of high mineral potential
  • Existing mining claims
  • Existing tourism operations and potential for more

Now everyone knows the type of development the community is interested in and where it can happen.

Waterpower in the Far North

When we talk about renewable energy, waterpower is a significant energy development opportunity for Far North communities.

In the Severn, Albany, Weenusk and Attawapiskat river watersheds, waterpower applications MUST come from Aboriginal communities or their partner.

And within the Moose River Basin, new waterpower can only be advanced through co-planning between First Nations and the province.

To date, a number of Far North First Nations have indicated an interest in looking at waterpower development.

In addition to being available for community use, waterpower development could lead to longer term connection to the provincial grid or help to service a mining operation.  In addition to the considerations of the Far North Act, development of projects will have to be considered with other key priorities of the government, including the Long-Term Energy Plan and the Ring of Fire.

The Far North Act provides for waterpower, wind power and transmission projects to move forward in conjunction with land use planning.

We are committed to working with NAN and Far North First Nations to build a better future for the region’s people and communities.

Policy Review for Crown Land

As we move forward with renewable energy development, we’ve also heard from industry, Aboriginal communities, environmental and recreational stakeholders, and the public that in the future there needs to be greater clarity and certainty on where and when Crown land is made available for projects

The ministry has heard from First Nation leaders that the “first come, first served” approach to applications for Crown land for renewable energy has not “best-served” the needs and aspirations of First Nation communities.

In response to these and other interests, my Ministry is committed to reviewing its policy approach to renewable energy on Crown land and to engaging Aboriginal organizations in the review.

Part of this work will be to do a better job lining up our Crown land renewable energy processes with the long-term vision of energy in Ontario.

As I mentioned earlier, this includes aligning Crown land availability with energy needs and transmission planning.

We will also continue to look for ways to build on our role in facilitating economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities from renewable energy development.

Whether it is through the tremendous energy development opportunities I’ve discussed so far, or even the Ring of Fire development…and of course as a Northwesterner I would like to see the processor here and continue to be a strong supporter of that…, there are great things happening right here, significant opportunities before us, that can deliver important benefits for our communities.

And by working together I am confident we can achieve this.

In closing, let me reiterate that my ministry recognizes the needs of NAN First Nations to participate in the green energy economy.

We are working to do our part so that this goal can become a reality, both through planning associated with the Far North Act and other ways of ensuring the involvement of Aboriginal communities.

We all share a commitment to working towards a better future for Aboriginal people and communities.


Michael Gravelle MPP
Minister of Natural Resources

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