April 4, 2013

Partnership to power a brighter future for remote First Nation communities

community, Indigenous, partnerships, people

Leaders and representatives of the First Nations communities and Goldcorp met on March 28, 2013, to formally incorporate Wataynikaneyap Power.

For most people, diesel generators are for emergencies. When the power goes out, you start one up to keep the lights on, the house warm and the power flowing.

But for remote First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario, diesel generation is a crucial source of power they can’t do without. They burn approximately 25 million litres of diesel fuel a year to get electricity into their homes and communities – enough diesel to fill 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And though the generators used by these First Nations communities are much bigger than ones you’ll find in your local hardware store, they’re the same in two important ways: They’re not the best power solution from an environmental perspective. And they cost a lot of money to operate.

All that may change thanks to a new partnership between 13 First Nations and Goldcorp. Wataynikaneyap Power (Anishininiimowin for “line that brings light”) is working to connect remote First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario to a cleaner source of electricity by bringing additional grid connection to Pickle Lake and adding new transmission beyond.

“We have partnered with Goldcorp to establish Wataynikaneyap Power with a goal of First Nations eventually owning 100% of this important infrastructure that will better serve our communities. I look forward to the day we can connect our communities to the provincial power grid – it is safe, reliable and provides for cleaner energy,” said Margaret Kenequanash, representing the 13 First Nations partners in Wataynikaneyap Power.

The 13 First Nation community partners jointly own 50% of the company, and Goldcorp owns the other 50%. The partner communities include: North Caribou Lake, Slate Falls, Wawakapewin, Cat Lake, Wunnumin Lake, Muskrat Dam, Wapekeka, Lac Seul, Kasabonika Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Sachigo Lake, Bearskin Lake and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

Goldcorp’s Musselwhite Mine is one of the customers currently serviced by a transmission line that is over 70 years old and cannot meet the reliability and capacity needs of the region. Goldcorp’s current role is to facilitate project development and provide support to our community partners until a long term transmitter partner has been secured for the project.

For Goldcorp, the partnership demonstrates what can be achieved when the business community and First Nation’s interests are aligned and collaborate for mutual benefit.

“Wataynikaneyap Power is an example of how industry and First Nations can work together on projects that are good for the economy and the environment while benefitting communities in the region for years to come,” said Gil Lawson, Manager of Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine.

Wataynikaneyap is proposing a two-phase process. The first phase, a 300-kilometre transmission line, will reinforce electricity transmission into Pickle Lake, including servicing Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine. The second phase will extend transmission north of Pickle Lake to service remote First Nation communities

When completed, the line will mean a significant reduction in diesel-powered electricity and an increase from cleaner sources like hydro, natural gas, renewables and nuclear power. Over 40 years, the project could result in over four million tons of avoided GHG emissions.

It will also result in an improvement of the quality of life in remote communities in Northwestern Ontario. Diesel power generation can have detrimental effects on health and the environment. The limited availability of power in some communities has also caused the temporary closure of schools and prevented the construction of new homes and businesses. Frequent power outages have compromised health care facilities and led to food spoilage. Diesel transportation, handling, and spills are ongoing concerns.

The project will also save money. Diesel power is one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity. The associated cost of diesel power generation has been estimated at approximately $68 million annually for remote northwestern communities. In the long term, a new transmission line would cost significantly less than continued diesel power generation.

The project will also create jobs – approximately 1,200 during construction and another 60 long-term career opportunities – as well as new economic development opportunities in the region. According to Margaret Kenequanash, the goal is to create as many local economic opportunities for First Nation communities as possible. The First Nation partners are currently in the process of developing training programs to prepare the local workforce.

Wataynikaneyap has initiated an environmental assessment on Phase 1 of the project and expects to complete construction to Pickle Lake by the end of 2015. The company plans to initiate an environmental assessment on Phase 2 this year, and could begin connecting communities in 2017.

This is just one in a series of initiatives underway in collaboration with First Nations. Last month we shared the success of Windigo Catering, which supplies catering and other services to Musselwhite Mine and was recently recognized for exceptional Aboriginal achievement in the Canadian mining industry.

Tell us what you think – are corporations and First Nations effectively collaborating to achieve shared objectives?

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