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Canadian government pumps C$1.6B into Ontario First Nations power grid

Canada's federal government will spend C$1.6 billion to connect 16 First Nations communities in northern Ontario to the provincial power grid.

The funding will help Wataynikaneyap Power LP, a venture that is majority owned by 22 First Nations communities, to bring grid-sourced power to communities that currently rely on diesel generators, according to a March 22 statement. Many of the individual communities do not have year-round road access and are at their electrical limits, preventing any expansion of power demand.

Utility owner Fortis Inc. holds a 49% stake in the venture through an Ontario subsidiary. The province will provide subsidies to support transmission and connection and distribution costs.

Both the federal and provincial governments have been working to reduce emissions and increase reliability in remote regions that rely on diesel to generate power. Transporting and storing the fuel also increases the cost and environmental hazards associated with diesel generation. While Fortis will bring construction and operation expertise to the Wataynikaneyap venture, the goal is to eventually have the transmission infrastructure fully owned by First Nations.

"Providing reliable sources of electricity is essential to remove barriers for Indigenous Peoples," Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in the statement. "Connecting Northern Ontario's First Nations to the existing power grid will open the door to new opportunities for economic development in these communities, and help strengthen them."

The network will eventually take in 1,800 kilometers of transmission lines that includes an initial phase of about 300 kilometers and a second phase of about 1,500 kilometers. Construction of a transmission line to the Pikangikum First Nation is underway and expected to be completed by late 2018. The full project is the largest Indigenous-led transmission project in Ontario's history.