Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SaskPower and Black Lake First Nation reach tentative agreement on 50 MW run-of-river hydro project in Northern Saskatchewan

SaskPower and Black Lake First Nation have reached an agreement in principle for the construction and operation of the planned Elizabeth Falls run-of-river hydroelectric project in Northern Saskatchewan. The proposed Elizabeth Falls hydroelectric project, if approved by regulators, would be the first power production facility primarily built on First Nations land in Saskatchewan.

SaskPower and Black Lake First Nation expect to finalize the agreement in 2013. Under the tentative agreement, SaskPower will provide 70% of the project financing, but exact terms of the agreement have yet to be finalized.

Black Lake First Nation Chief Rick Robillard said this agreement means a lot of things to the band. “We will be the proud owners of a profitable long-term business, and the profits from this business, we believe, will make a big difference to the lives in people in our community and surrounding region.”

“This project will provide contracting opportunities for the band and other communities of the Athabasca region, particularly during the construction phase,” he said.

Black Lake First Nation, the Elizabeth Falls Hydro Development Corp. and SaskPower are in discussions with other training facilities, “to come up with some training programs up in the North prior to the project, in terms of construction, the trades and the construction field, the heavy-equipment operations and all sorts of different types of trades that come with the whole project itself,” Robillard said.

The band owns the Elizabeth Falls Hydro Development partnership, said Ted de Jong, its corporate executive officer. The corporation is the business entity set up to develop the project on the band’s behalf.

“Many of the companies that would be involved in the construction are owned by the First Nations in the region,” de Jong said. He said the hope is that all those companies will take part in the construction phase.

Hydroelectric projects have a consistent cash flow, de Jong said, “which the community could be assured will be there for many generations to come.”

The Black Lake community became interested in developing this project 20 years ago, he said. “They’ve spent two decades bringing it to this point. In the past three years, they have undertaken a very detailed aquatic study and an environmental study related to potential impacts on the lake, on the river on the fish, on the wildlife, on everything.”

The site of the project would be near the Fond du Lac River, and the design for the facility does include a dam on the river as it is a true run-of-river project.

He said they are still discussing the size of the band’s ownership stake in the project with SaskPower. “We recognize, from the Black Lake perspective, that we don’t have the financial ability to be a, you know, 50-50 owner.”

Robillard said the project could be a new “stepping stone” towards First Nations partnerships with governments, and it will help meet the growing demand for hydroelectric power in the North, particularly due to increased uranium mining activity in the Athabasca basin.

SaskPower’s vice-president of business development, Grant Ring, said relations with the Black Lake First Nation are very good and they’ve been working closely on negotiations for the past year.

“We expect it [relations] to be good and continue through, basically from now on,” Ring said.

“What we’re excited about at SaskPower is that this is probably the best site in the province right now to develop a hydro project that doesn’t require a dam, it’s basically run of river, it’s very environmentally friendly and that’s important that the community endorsed the project.”

The Elizabeth Falls project has a planned capacity of 50 MW. Project costs are estimated to be between $300-$350 million CAD. The expected lifetime of the project is 90 to 100 years. The plant is expected to run at 90 percent capacity. Subject to regulatory approval, construction of the project could begin in the latter half of 2014 with completion and operation slated for 2017.

Sources: Newstalk 650 CKOM, HydroWorld.com

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