Wataynikaneyap Power said recently that it is seeking comments on the draft environmental assessment (EA) report for the Phase 1 New Transmission Line to Pickle Lake Project, with June 30 marking the start of a five-week comment period.
As noted in the draft EA, a grouping of 22 First Nation communities have joined together, in partnership with Fortis’ (NYSE:FTS) FortisOntario, to form a licensed transmission company, the Wataynikaneyap Power Limited Partnership, to develop, build, operate, and own the Wataynikaneyap Power Project, which is being developed in two phases.
Phase 1, the New Transmission Line to Pickle Lake Project (referred to in the draft EA as the project), is an approximately 300-kilometer, 230-kV transmission line from the Dryden/Ignace area to Pickle Lake in northwestern Ontario.
Phase 2, the draft EA added, includes about 1,500 kilometers of 115-kV and 44-kV transmission lines for subsystems north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake that would connect 17 remote First Nation communities, currently powered by diesel generation, to the provincial electrical grid.
The Phase 1 project enables the Phase 2 project by reinforcing the grid and increasing electrical supply capacity available at the Pickle Lake substation, the draft EA said.
The draft EA noted that the project includes the construction, operation and maintenance, as well as retirement of a proposed alternating current electricity transmission system in northwestern Ontario, and it includes these main components:
- An overhead alternating current transmission line and associated components that would be located within a two-kilometer-wide corridor about 300 kilometers in length. Based on the outcome of a preliminary corridor routing analysis, three corridors have been identified – a preliminary proposed corridor originating in Dinorwic (east of Dryden) and extending north to terminate at Pickle Lake; and two corridor alternatives originating in the Ignace area (Corridor Alternative Around Mishkeegogamang and Corridor Alternative Through Mishkeegogamang)
- A connection facility to serve as a connection between the project transmission line and an existing 230-kV line owned and operated by Hydro One. The connection facility for the preliminary proposed corridor is proposed to be located at Dinorwic, and the connection facility for the two Ignace to Pickle Lake corridor alternatives is proposed to be located about 20 kilometers west of Ignace
- A transformer station and ancillary components proposed at Pickle Lake to provide for connection and switching of the 115-kV alternating current transmission line to the existing Hydro One and the Musselwhite Mine transmission lines
- Temporary structures associated with construction, including access roads or trails, laydown areas, turn-around areas, and watercourse crossings
According to Wataynikaneyap’s website, construction on Phase 1 is expected to begin in late 2018, with completion in mid-2020, while construction on Phase 2 is expected to begin in 2019, with completion in 2023.
According to the draft EA, during the environmental assessment stage, Wataynikaneyap continued to further refine the project design through a narrowing of the initial two-kilometer-wide corridors to preliminary proposed “40-m-wide” transmission line alignment right of way (ROW) and identification of preliminary proposed location of project components. The “40-m-wide” transmission line alignment ROW is where the eventual transmission line would be built and operated, the draft EA said, noting that Wataynikaneyap will continue with its technical analysis during detailed design of the selected preferred transmission corridor.
Transmission service on the Ontario electricity grid in northwestern Ontario terminates at the community of Pickle Lake, the draft EA noted, adding that Ontario’s remote First Nation communities rely on diesel generation for their electricity supply, but diesel fuel is expensive, difficult to transport, and poses environmental and health risks.
Transmission reliability and expansion to Pickle Lake was identified in Ontario’s “Achieving balance long-term energy plan,” which was released in November 2013, as a key priority for the connection of Aboriginal communities in northwestern Ontario to the provincial grid, the draft EA noted.
According to the Ontario Power Authority’s study, over the next 40 years, grid connection could be 30% to 40% less expensive than continued use of diesel fuels, the draft EA said, noting that the project is expected to provide such net benefits as an increase in labor demand from direct employment, indirect employment, and induced employment.
By enabling the Phase 2 project, additional benefits would be realized, including enhanced environmental reliance in northern Ontario due to reduced reliance on ice road and transport infrastructure and fuel storage; elimination of emergency fuel deliveries by air related to poor ice road conditions; and substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from diesel generation.
The draft EA also noted that key issues and concerns raised during the stakeholder workshops and information sessions related to parks and protected areas, wildlife, surface and groundwater, socioeconomics, land and resource use, project design, and climate change.
The project is located in the Nelson River and Southwest Hudson Bay primary watersheds and six tertiary watersheds, the draft EA noted, adding that the preliminary proposed corridor crosses 269 watercourses and 31 lakes; the Corridor Alternative Around Mishkeegogamang crosses 177 watercourses and 48 lakes; and the Corridor Alternative Through Mishkeegogamang crosses 172 watercourses and 47 lakes.
All three corridors would potentially affect surface water quality and quantity during construction and/or operation and maintenance from short-term water taking, short-term water diversion, and changes in reach and cross-section hydraulics at waterbody crossings, changes in land cover, and increased rates of erosion in disturbed and exposed areas with sediment transport and delivery to adjacent waterbodies, the draft EA said.
Wataynikaneyap would implement appropriate impact management measures to limit adverse effects to surface quantity and quality, the draft EA said, adding that the project is expected to result in negligible net effects on surface quality and quantity.
The project also has the potential to result in changes to groundwater quality during construction related to accidental spills, the draft EA said, noting that Wataynikaneyap would prepare and implement a spill prevention and response plan that would include procedures to decrease the risk of an accidental spill occurrence and timely clean-up if a spill were to occur.
The draft EA also noted that most of the landscape across the project study areas for the preliminary proposed corridor and corridor alternatives is composed of coniferous, hardwood and mixed-wood forests, as well as smaller amounts of scattered bedrock.
All three corridors are predicted to contribute to small negative changes in upland ecosystem availability, distribution, and composition, according to the draft EA, which also noted that all three corridors are predicted to cause small losses to wetlands.
Overall, changes to ecosystem availability, distribution and composition from the project and reasonably foreseeable developments are predicted to be within the resilience limits and adaptive capacity of wetland ecosystems, the draft EA said.
The project has the potential to result in the injury or mortality of fish from instream construction and the use of explosives, as well as from the transport and delivery of dust to nearby waterbodies, which could affect fish habitat quantity and quality. However, the draft EA added, given the implementation of impact management measures, no net effects related to the injury or mortality of fish or the deposition of dust are anticipated.
Discussing wildlife, the draft EA said that within the Churchill and Brightsand caribou ranges, for instance, the project is expected to result in small incremental changes in caribou habitat availability, habitat destruction, as well as survival and reproduction. The incremental changes resulting from the preliminary proposed corridor or the two corridor alternatives would contribute to a small reduction in range condition, which may further impede the ability to recovery the Churchill and Brightsand caribou populations to a self-sustaining status, the draft EA said.
Populations of little brown myotis that overlap with the project study areas are highly sensitive to changes in survival and reproduction because white nose syndrome has resulted in dramatic declines of that species across the eastern portions of its range and likely the project study areas, the draft EA said. Because of its currently declining population, little brown myotis is highly vulnerable to additional threats including changes in habitat availability. However, the draft EA added, the species is inherently resilient to habitat changes as it is highly mobile and well adapted to human disturbance.
Of heritage resources, which include buildings, structures and landscapes that have cultural heritage value or interest as identified by a community, the draft EA noted that there are no known federally, provincially, or municipally recognized cultural heritage resources in the project study areas for all corridors. Potential cultural heritage resources within the project study area include former mining sites, a Roman Catholic Church, and an Anglican Church.
With effective implementation of impact management measures, the draft EA added, the net effect of the project on potential cultural heritage resources is predicted to be negligible for all three corridors, and cultural heritage resources are expected to be protected from effects from the project.
Among other things, the draft EA addressed visual aesthetics, noting that most of the project is expected to be partially or fully screened by landforms and/or vegetation, and would be either not visible or have limited visibility from many viewing opportunities along major roadways, as well as at most recreation and tourism sites, parks, and communities or settlements.
The project’s net effect on visual aesthetics is characterized as a generally low level of visual change occurring over a long-term to permanent duration within a resilient visual context that would not result in change to the existing landscape character, the draft EA said.
While proceeding with the project would have environmental effects, the findings of the draft EA have determined that the incremental effects associated with the project can be effectively mitigated by standard and specific environmental protection measures, the draft EA said.