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Towns eager to tap into proposed power line.

A plan to establish a transmission line from Manitoba to Ontario hinges on whether or not First Nations will allow a corridor to pass through their traditional lands, and on the ability of governments and industry to agree on funding, pricing and development.

The $5-billion Conawapa dam project in Manitoba is expected to supply 1,250-megawatt hydroelectric energy to Ontario, enough to provide 600,000 homes with electricity, by way of a new transmission line from the neighbouring province. The proposed dam would be built on the Nelson River, 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Hydro One is considering three alternatives as possible transmission routes.

One is a far northern passage that will skirt Hudson Bay and James Bay with no links to northwestern Ontario and connect into the grid at Sudbury's.

Another route along the CN rail corridor could link up a number of communities, but there are impediments to running a new line southward through the eastern portion of Manitoba to feed the Ontario portion.

Lastly, a middle route from Conawapa to the northwest corner of Ontario, and then southeastward to Thunder Bay, is also being considered.

"That route is favoured by the First Nations, since they are seeking to get an all-weather road into some of their communities," says Michael Kuriychuk, chairman of the board for Thunder Bay Hydro.

The project itself pivots on the consensus of the First Nations communities allowing a line through their traditional lands, he says.

From a First Nations' perspective, they have introduced a hybrid of the last route, that will follow the existing winter road corridor, which will reduce environmental impact while at the same time generate economic opportunities for over 40 communities says Michael Rae, economic development officer for Matawa First Nation Management says. Matawa First Nation is located approximately 300 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

A meeting on the development of a transmission corridor was held in Thunder Bay on Aug. 26 and 27. First Nations chiefs and representatives, government ministers and industry officials discussed not only transmission lines, but also a network of roads and grids to connect the remote First Nations. Premier Dalton McGuinty made an appearance and stated his interest in the project, which brought validity to the initiative, Rae says. It was agreed that a prefeasibility study was to be completed. Based on the results, the participants will determine their next course of action.

But even if an agreement is reached between First Nation and the governments, it does not mean the project receives a green light to move forward. Just because Manitoba's energy costs are affordable does not mean Ontario will receive the same pricing, particularly if it is left to pay for the development of the dam and the transference lines, Kuriychuk says.

The two provinces are working on finding common ground in regards to pricing structure.

First Nations communities are not the only communities that will benefit from having a generation line through their communities. Marathon and Greenstone are two communities eager to tap into the resource.

A wind initiative is currently taking place in Marathon, located approximately two hours east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. It may be the community's answer to the threatening energy price hikes. If the transmission lines are upgraded, the wind energy could flow into the grid and be sold, says Daryl Skworchinski, economic development officer for Marathon. The town and Marathon Pulp are erecting towers, located on the southwest ridge of the town, to verify potential resources.

"We purchase about seven to eight megawatts of power per day," Alan Hitzroth, vice-president of the Marathon Pulp Inc., says.

"We are concerned about the rising power costs and are looking at ways to become self-sufficient. The wind is a good fit for us."

By KELLY LOUISEIZE

Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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