First Nation forced to import electricity from the United States at high prices

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First Nation forced to import high priced electricity from the United States

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The Windigo Island community is part of the Animakee Wa Zhing 37 First Nation.

Two Indigenous communities on an island in Lake of the Woods in Northern Ontario must import electricity from the United States to power their buildings and pay some of the highest electricity rates in Ontario.

Indigenous communities on Windigo Island and Angle Inlet, both accessible only by boat or ice road, do not have access to the Ontario or Manitoba power grid, although several hydroelectric dams are on the Winnipeg River, a tributary of Lake of the Woods.

They are therefore forced to import their electricity at high prices from Minnesota, the neighboring American state.

As the mercury continues to drop, Harvey Powassin, who lives on the island, prepares for the return of winter and high electricity bills.

He gets his electricity bills out of the #x27;last year. In January, it had risen to US$664. By February, it had jumped to US$987.

I try to be careful, but there is not much you can do in the winter, because you have to keep the house warm to avoid the water pipes freeze and burst, he says.

Although the Ontario government subsidizes electricity costs for residents in the province to reduce their bills, residents of the island, who are part of the Animakee Wa Zhing First Nation37, do not do not have access to these subsidies since they are not connected to the provincial electricity grid, a prerequisite, according to the Ontario Ministry of Energy.

L Nor could help come from Manitoba to reduce electricity bills since the province has issued a directive to Manitoba Hydro that prevents this company from entering into agreements with Aboriginal communities.

The Animakee Wa Zhing First Nation37 therefore finds itself paying the electricity bills for its buildings and for some residences. The bill is already $120,571.30 for 2022, according to chef Linda McVicar.

That's over $154,600 CAD.

Every month we lose money that we could use for economic development, for housing or for infrastructure, she laments.

Minnesota's utility charges them a flat rate of US$0.138 per kilowatt hour, which equates to approximately CA$0.185 per kilowatt hour, based on the average November exchange rate for these two currencies.

Although it is difficult to compare electricity prices in Canada due to different energy sources and billing methods, this rate is higher than the rate current peak demand of CA$0.151 per kilowatt hour which is set by the Ontario Energy Board.

We have a 20 year plan for growth . Now it's a question of how we're going to do it with those costs, says McVicar.

We have reached the critical point: I think it is going to be very difficult to be able to stay here. We don't want to see people leave, she adds.

Indigenous Services Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Energy say they held meetings with Ms. McVicar and pledged to help the Animakee Wa Zhing 37 community, but they offered no solutions. , funding, or timelines to address the concerns of this First Nation.

Neither government has said they will offer grants to temporarily help this First Nation. Nation to pay their electricity bills.

Vanessa Powassin, former Chief of this First Nation, cannot imagine ever leaving Windigo Island .

If the First Nation manages to pay for its electricity, the problem is not only a question of price. There is also reliability, a key issue for Ms. Powassin, who has just started life-saving dialysis treatment.

Vanessa Powassin needs a reliable power supply to run her dialysis machine.

Mrs. Powassin uses her dialysis treatment machine for more than three hours three times a week. If the power goes out, she only has 20 minutes of battery life before the device's battery runs out.

According to her, at During the first three weeks of his dialysis treatment, there were two complete breakdowns.

She claims that during one particularly windy period this fall, the current fluctuated so frequently that her nurse advised her to wait for it to stabilize, which took four days. /p>

It gives me a lot of anxiety, especially when there are power cuts. I'm afraid I won't be able to follow my treatment that week, she laments.

Given the cost of electricity, compounded by her home's all-electric heating, her dialysis machine and the lack of Ontario subsidies, Ms. Powassin says she doesn't know if she will be able to stay on the island.

I will probably no longer be able to afford to live here. I would have to choose between, on the one hand, food and transport to go buy it and, on the other hand, electricity, she says.

Ms. McVicar says she wants to make things better for Windigo Island residents, including adding a new water treatment plant, cultural center and new housing.

However, these improvements come with increased energy costs.

The First Nation has recently explored different options for itself. supply with cheaper electricity on the island, including several conversations with Hydro One, the largest electricity supplier in Ontario.

Linda McVicar is the Chief of the Animakee Wa Zhing 37 First Nation, which includes the community of Windigo Island.

Hydro One has made some suggestions, including connecting the island to the Ontario grid by submerging the transmission lines, at an estimated cost of between $5 million and $10 million, the chief said.

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The conversation kind of ended, because it's a high cost, and we couldn't agree on who would pay it, says Ms. McVicar.

Access to affordable electricity should be a human right, says Ms. help.

We are on the cusp of reconciliation and recognition that First Nations deserve all the opportunities for economic development that settlers have had over the years. generations, says Ms. McVicar.

For us to be able to grow and sustain ourselves, we must have electricity at cost. x affordable, otherwise we will just stay with the status quo and stagnate, she argues.

Based on information from < em>Logan Turner, CBC

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