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Lesley Gallinger

Lesley Gallinger

President & CEO, Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO)

Indigenous communities are increasingly playing an active role in Ontario’s energy sector in the areas of conservation, generation and new, major transmission projects.

We’re at a pivotal point in the evolution of Ontario’s power system. One critical aspect of this transformation is the growing role played by Indigenous communities and organizations in the energy space. Now more than ever before, many Indigenous leaders across Ontario are pursuing projects that support greater energy independence and provide new opportunities.

By developing generation and storage systems, becoming equity partners and leaders in major infrastructure projects, prioritizing energy efficiency as a way to reduce their carbon footprint, and engaging in important conversations about system planning, Indigenous communities are seeking greater autonomy and becoming catalysts for change.

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is supporting these leaders on their respective energy journeys. Through a variety of different programs and initiatives, we’ve spent more than a decade working with Indigenous communities and organizations to build local energy capacity, including skills and connections.

While there’s still work to be done, developing Indigenous capacity is an important step towards a longer-term goal of achieving fair, equitable and inclusive participation in the energy sector. Ontario is already witnessing the rapid growth of Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-led projects and initiatives in a number of areas, often with funding from the IESO’s Energy Support Programs (ESPs).

While there’s still work to be done, developing Indigenous capacity is an important step towards a longer-term goal of achieving fair, equitable and inclusive participation in the energy sector.

Indigenous energy leadership can be found across Ontario, but one initiative that stands out is the Wataynikaneyap Power Project. Through an innovative partnership between 24 First Nations, Fortis Inc. and other private investors, this multi-year initiative will connect 17 remote communities in northern Ontario to Ontario’s high-voltage transmission system.

To date, more than 20 unique communities and organizations that are part of this project have received over $5.7 million in ESP funding in the areas of energy planning, capacity building and project development, among others.

This landmark project, whose name translates as “line that brings light,” is scheduled for completion by mid-2024. Communities are starting to be connected to the grid, and the project is already creating employment and development opportunities while improving the communities’ environmental performance.

In another example, Fort Severn First Nation — the most northern community in Ontario — powered up a 300-kilowatt solar energy system late last fall. This array is expected to significantly reduce the community’s diesel consumption and deliver more than $300,000 in annual energy savings, which will be used to build much-needed housing.

In addition to delivering economic and environmental benefits, this project has also created well-paying jobs in the community. Going forward, residents hope to build on the progress made to date by installing solar panels on other band-owned buildings and developing wind generation.

Developing the energy leaders of today and tomorrow is an important aspect of this work and a vital contributor to long-term success. In partnership with Opiikapawiin Services LP and Relay Education, we will launch the Plugged In to a Brighter Future program this year. This program will provide hands-on training to youth in Wataynikaneyap owner communities with the goal of building their energy knowledge and developing their skills for future employment in the energy sector or a related field.

A reliable supply of electricity can power opportunities. Indigenous leadership is an essential component of Ontario’s clean energy transition — and the momentum for change continues to build, delivering valuable results for communities and for the province as a whole.

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