Cleaner energy, jobs eyed from project
Thunder Bay, Ont. — Whitesand First Nation will be moving forward in the development of a forest biomass-fuelled, 6.5-megawatt facility with Sagatay Co-generation that will reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of diesel power in the community.
Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Natural Resources, announced a federal investment of $35 million to build the facility that once operational, will connect to the local micro-grid and provide power for up to 4,200 families in three communities while replacing 1.3 million litres of diesel fuel currently being used in Whitesand First Nation, and the communities of Armstrong and Collins, Ontario.
Wilkinson, who attended the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Leaders Luncheon at the Slovak Legion on Tuesday, spoke of the importance of government leadership in their response to changing circumstances and moving to take decisive action.
“Finding ways to help remote communities, particularly Indigenous communities, get off diesel is a priority for the government,” he said.
“It is helpful in terms of local economic development and actually ensuring that their communities are participating actively in cleaning our environment.”
David Mackett, director of Sagatay Co-Generation, says that this announcement has been a long time coming, noting the project was first proposed in 1992.
“For a community in the middle of the boreal forest who really didn’t get that many benefits and jobs from the forestry in the past, this means everything — it’s jobs, it’s revenue,” he said.
“It creates a place for youth to get training and a place to work. It enables the Whitesand community to enter Ontario’s economy. In the case of Whitesand, who will be taking over the management of the forest, those people that are on social assistance will have an opportunity for jobs and employment at home. Shutting off diesel, which is carbon reduction, can also go into poverty reduction, so it’s a very unique project in that regard.”
Allan Gustafson, chief of Whitesand First Nation, was thrilled with the announcement.
“I’m lost for words because we’ve been at this for 15 years,” Gustafson said.
“For our community, it means economic growth, jobs and bringing people back to our community.”
The electricity generated from the facility will also provide heat and power to a new wood pellet plant and a fully electric wood merchandising yard.
Craig Toset, the business development and band manager for Whitesand First Nation, says there are many aspects to the project.
“There is economic development, employment opportunities, social development, and getting rid of diesel generator power and hopefully the reduction of the Ontario Works clients,” he said.
“We’re also looking at forest management for managing and protecting our lands, not over-cutting the areas or over-harvesting, but protecting the forest so that it is a healthy forest.”
Toset pointed out that they still have much work ahead but some progress has begun.
Toset estimates it could be upwards of four months before the construction begins with a two-year completion date on the horizon.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal