Remote Communities Can Benefit from Waterpower Technology

A look at Deer Lake First Nation Shoulderblade Falls Generating Station

By: Stephanie Landers, Manager, Community Relations and Public Outreach, Ontario Waterpower Association

On June 4th, 2019 I had the pleasure of supporting Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) members, Hydro One Remotes at the Hydel Community Appreciation Day at Deer Lake First Nation. Deer Lake First Nation a small community of approximately one thousand two hundred (1,200) people located in remote northwestern Ontario. The event included educational booths, a tour of the Shoulderblade Falls Generating Station and a community barbeque. Ontario has two hundred twenty four (224) waterpower facilities and Shoulderblade Falls is the northernmost facility in the province.

The event involved all community members. Throughout the day, over two hundred (200) school children were bused to the location to learn about waterpower and their very own community facility. To support Hydro One Remotes at the tour, the OWA and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) provided educational booths and resources for the youth. OWA brought our interactive renewable energy display and handed out ‘What Engineers Do’ activity books, a resource OWA helped develop in partnership with Queens University’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program. MNRF educated on fish and wildlife and how they use the river. The students answered questions on a handout at each booth and were entered into a draw, which included prizes such as fishing gear and paddling safety equipment.

Shoulderblade Falls Generating Station

Aerial Photo – Shoulderblade Falls GS (490 kW)

The Shoulderblade Falls waterpower facility was completed by Hydro One in November 1998. The 490kW run-of-the-river generating station is located on the Severn River, approximately 6 kilometres from the Deer Lake First Nation community, and is a joint partnership between Hydro One and Deer Lake First Nation. The station is currently managed by Hydro One and a Deer Lake community member is employed as the on-site operator.

This small but mighty facility proves how waterpower can reduce diesel dependency and support economically sustainable development in remote areas of Ontario. Since its completion, Shoulderblade Falls has reduced diesel use by a third each year in Deer Lake on average. The current record year is 2011 when waterpower provided almost 2 million kWh’s to Deer Lake, which is approximately forty percent (40%) of the community load. Almost 600,000 litres of fuel was saved that year (equivalent to 21 truckloads or 75 Hawker flights). This reduction helps the community to decrease electricity costs, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Deer Lake is not the only First Nation to have recognized the many benefits of waterpower. There are multiple examples throughout the province of Indigenous communities owning and operating their own waterpower facilities, as evidenced in OWA’s Footprints to Follow catalogue.

There are currently 26 remote communities, including Deer Lake, that are not connected to the Ontario electricity grid. Several transmission line projects are currently working on connecting some of the communities to the electricity grid. These include the East-West Tie Transmission Project, Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project and the newly-announced Waasigan Transmission Line Project.

OWA recognized these opportunities over a decade ago and partnered with the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund in 2009 to undertake an economic analysis of the potential connection of diesel-dependant First Nations to the provincial electricity grid. The resulting report was shared with First Nations to support “Remotes Planning”.

In 2013, OWA partnered with the Ministries of Energy and Natural Resources and the Ontario Power Authority to commission an evaluation of waterpower potential in proximity to proposed transmission in the Far North. The results of the report were shared with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and with the remote communities.

The OWA also partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada in 2014 to provide community-centric mapping products and information to several Remote communities to support their interest in land use planning and resource development. To view the map created for Deer Lake CLICK HERE (Waterpower, Wetland and Waterfowl near Deer Lake).

Analysis completed by these reports confirmed that Ontario has significant untapped waterpower potential, including in the Northeast’s Moose River Basin and in proximity to diesel dependent communities, new transmission line development and the Ring of Fire. Importantly, the realization of this potential is premised on community economic participation.

Indigenous-led waterpower development in diesel-dependent areas can provide remote communities with affordable, reliable and sustainable energy that expands infrastructure and economic development opportunities. Deer Lake First Nation is certainly a leader in this regard and for several decades has been a proven waterpower champion.

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