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SERPENT RIVER FIRST NATIOIN - Dec. 11, 2017 - Today is the 20th anniversary of Five Nations Energy Incorporated (FNEI), a development that placed transmission and distribution of electricity into the hands of Mushkegowuk First Nations in the James Bay Lowlands in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The anniversary is being marked today by the FNEI Board of Directors.
In September 1997, Five Nations Energy Inc. (FNEI) was incorporated under the Canada Corporations Act. FNEI selected SNC Lavalin Inc. to undertake a feasibility study to look into the development and construction of a transmission line between Moosonee and Attawapiskat, also serving Fort Albany and Kashechewan. The study proved to be positive in its outlook of the development of line, whereby the Mushkegowuk Chiefs decided to proceed with construction.
A confidence report was completed by Stone & Webster on the technical and engineering aspects of the feasibility study and by Scotia Capital on the financial aspects. Both confidence reports confirmed that the project was viable, which assisted in the financing that FNEI would require in advancing their dream of a grid-fed energy system. The results were immensely positive on all aspects of life in those First Nations, including the decommissioning of dirty energy from diesel systems.
One of the driving forces behind FNEI’s success was former project coordinator, the late Ed Chilton, survived in the company by brother Pat Chilton who has picked up on his legacy and management leadership. Both men have given absolute dedication to this file, affecting the lives of thousands of Mushkegowuk citizens over the last generation.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day remembers, "Ed Chilton was a quiet and an effective leader who certainly was looked upon as an important voice not only for the North, but he was one of those voices that was no stranger to the Ontario Energy Board, and other tables where First Nations needed the best and brightest perspectives to help push our rights and to help establish energy systems that would meet the needs of our communities. FNEI’s inaugural team was very fortunate to have high impact technical minds, savvy business leaders, and community conscious elected officials. Today their legacy can be traced back to the spirit of land, family and a proud Mushkegowuk identity. We all win when trail-blazing projects like this succeed – congratulations to FNEI."
The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook or Twitter @ChiefsOfOntario.
Removing one roadblock to growing First Nation communities
Five Nations Energy Inc. provides an essential service to a remote region, an electric transmission service that serves three First Nation communities on the shores of James Bay. Joe Gaboury is the General Manager, "First Nations Energy is the only First Nations owned electricity transmission company in Canada.
"It is a federally incorporated non-profit corporation owned equally by Attawapiskat Power Corporation, Fort Albany Power Corporation, and Kashechewan Power Corporation." The electricity, in addition to powering these Cree Nation communities, also runs down a 90 km extension to the De Beers Canada Victor Mine that opened in July last year.
De Beers is producing a quarter of a billion dollars in diamonds each year and employing 400 people. Gaboury said the mine has been good for the area, creating jobs for people especially in Attawapiskat and Fort Albany. "They say it has a 12 year life span and the company is continuing to explore leases in the James Bays Lowlands for more diamonds. They may be here a lot longer."
Gaboury is a business man, educated in accounting at Laurentian University and University of Sudbury, and he has a Masters in Business Administration. He began to manage FNEI late last year after a three-year stint running Attawapiskat Power Corporation brought him to a state of complete familiarity with transmission operations.
His task is straight forward, "Increase the reliability for the customers and keep the system growing." DeBeers actually added an extra line to the transmission system increasing the capacity wattage.
Delivery of enough electricity changes the way communities operate, "Electric heating is displacing the use of wood energy in heating homes," said Gaboury. "The system is able to support this and, yet, upgrading the transmission system is an on-going challenge."
Delivering this much electricity is important, "Making the communities expandable was one of the driving forces to developing a transmission network," said Gaboury. "Diesel was restricting the size of the communities, it was loud, it was an environmental mess, and these communities had outgrown the capacity of diesel electrical generation."
He said having a regional transmission grid linked to Hydro One takes away all the former constraints on schools, recreation facilities, and the ability to add new housing subdivisions. "It changes the game; at least it removes one road-block to expanding these communities," said Gaboury.
Each town-site on the western shore of James Bay, from the southerly Ft. Albany, to Kashechewan, and Attawapiskat at the other end, has established its own distribution corporation, which do billing, service, and general maintenance, explained Gaboury, "They each have their own employees and operations."
FNEI has four full-time employees working maintenance and emergency services. "We’ve been going ten years now and we’re still here. It does offer us a bit of notoriety," Gaboury laughs, about being the one-and-only First Nation high voltage transmission company in Canada, "or it allows us to serve as a role model."