New Model to Expand Electrical Transmission for Megaprojects in Ontario

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New Model to Expand Electrical Transmission for Megaprojects in Ontario

On September 22 Hydro One, Ontario’s major transmission and distribution utility announced a new “equity partnership model” with First Nations on new capital transmission line projects with a value exceeding $100 million. The model “offers First Nations a 50 per cent equity stake in all future large scale capital transmission line projects,” Hydro One says. In other words First Nations band councils or groups of band councils that set-up development or investment arms are being “offered” the ability to invest in the transmission of hydro to meet the needs of global monopolies in mining, auto and agricultural sectors.

The investment model will apply to the five transmission lines Hydro One is currently developing in southwestern Ontario. The projects lie between London, Windsor and Sarnia and are said to require a $1 billion to finance and are proposed to be developed in phases through 2030. The lines have already been decided upon with the government using its executive powers declaring three of the transmission line projects, one of which is to feed a new electric battery plant in Windsor, Ontario as provincial “priorities.” This declaration means that Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) regulatory approval process is “streamlined” in order to begin work on the lines immediately. It also means that new powers in effect for Ontario mayors can be expanded to municipalities in the region to get “shovels in the ground” as quickly as possible on such projects.

At the time the lines were announced Ontario’s Minister of Energy Todd Smith made it clear the aim was to use public funds to provide the infrastructure the auto and agri-food monopolies based in southern Ontario demand. “Our government is supporting the incredible growth in Southwest Ontario by accelerating the development of five new transmission lines that will power the new Stellantis–LGES battery plant, the growing greenhouse sector and other job creators.” Calling the greenhouse sector a “job creator” is a bit much. This industry is well known to make its profits on the backs of migrant and impoverished labourers, some of it under the table, as well as the low-cost of electricity.  “As our government reduces the price of doing business, including by lowering electricity prices by 15-17 per cent for large commercial and industrial customers, we have seen significant new investment. Today we are demonstrating our commitment to build the critical infrastructure to support those new jobs,” he added. Replace “new jobs” with “new streams of profit” would be more accurate.

Hydro One has also added to the deal that it will increase its “Indigenous procurement spend to 5 per cent of all materials and services by 2026 and [ensure] that 20 per cent of its corporate donations and sponsorships support Indigenous communities.”

This announcement by Hydro One follows the signing of an agreement this spring with eight First Nations Bands represented by Gwayakocchigewin Limited Partnership (GLP) for the Waasigan Transmission Line project. This agreement provides the First Nations represented by the GLP with “the opportunity” to invest in an equity stake in the project.

The Waasigan Transmission Line is a proposed new double-circuit 230 kilovolt transmission line between Lakehead Transformer Station (TS) in the Municipality of Shuniah and Mackenzie TS in the Town of Atikokan, and a new single-circuit 230 kilovolt transmission line between Mackenzie TS and Dryden TS in the City of Dryden. Hydro One states that demand for more electricity is anticipated as early as the mid-2020s. According to the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission’s 2021 mining readiness report, mining-related electricity demand in the northwest is expected to increase 180% over the next five years. Waasigan will bring an additional 350 megawatts of power to the region, enough to supply approximately 11 new average mining operations.

According to Hydro One and the government, which has a controlling stake in the private utility firm, this is what reconciliation and building a new relationship with First Nations is all about – offering them the ability to buy into projects they had no role in establishing which are being set up to make profits for massive international monopolies.