Ontario’s Whitesand First Nation secures long-sought funding for biomass plant

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After lobbying for the project since 1992, the Whitesand First Nation in northwestern Ontario has finally secured $35 million in federal funding for its long-awaited biomass cogeneration facility.

Whitesand officials say their Sagatay Co-Generation Limited Partnership’s 6.5-megawatt biomass facility will displace millions of litres in diesel consumption and improve local air quality once connected to the local micro-grid. Their hope is that the facility will ultimately provide heat and power for three communities about 250 km northeast of Thunder Bay by using locally-sourced wood waste.

“I am proud of the vision and determination of Sagatay Co-Generation LP to stay focused on completing this project which will reduce the use of diesel fuel for heat and energy,” announced Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, who added that climate protection is the “challenge of our lifetime and we need all hands on deck.”

Once operational, in about three years, the biomass plant is also expected to provide heat and power to a new wood pellet plant and a fully electric wood merchandising yard, said local officials.

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In a statement, Whitesand First Nation Chief Allan Gustafson acknowledged the long and difficult road to securing federal funding for the project.

“Whitesand’s vision of energy independence and economic growth began in 1992 when we proposed a biomass cogeneration facility,” Gustafson noted. “Although that proposal was not accepted, and despite the many barriers we have faced through the years, we did not give up and today our vision of a sustainable future through the use of our local forest is at hand,” the chief added.

Whitesand is a community of about 400 people. It is an Ojibwa First Nation with a land base of about 250 hectares. The Armstrong Settlement is their main community.

David Mackett of the Sagatay Co-Generation Limited Partnership responded to the funding announcement by noting that the project is confirmation of Canada’s commitment to low-carbon programs and support can lead to substantial economic growth and employment in the community, as well as greenhouse gas reductions.

“This project empowers an Indigenous community to enter Canada’s and Ontario’s economy while demonstrating how carbon reduction can lead to poverty reduction in similar communities across Canada,” Mackett said.

The funding is provided under Natural Resources Canada’s Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREPs) program. The department previously provided $4.1 million in funding for the project’s pre-development work from the Clean Energy for Rural and Remote Communities.

This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s April 2023:

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