"We're on the road to a new future," said an upbeat David Mackett who is leading the Community Sustainability Initiative in Whitesand First Nation. On October 20, 2017, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario announced a joint investment of $3.76 million, including $949,539 in FedNor funding, to develop an industrial park in support of bio-mass electrical production and new business growth opportunities.
Dubbed the Bio-Economy Centre, it's the first project of its kind in Ontario. The innovative park will include a wood merchandising yard, as well as a five-megawatt biomass combined heat and power plant and a new 90,000 metric ton wood pellet manufacturing plant. The co-generation facility will use the bark and limbs of the trees that are harvested for the wood pellet plant to produce energy. The innovative and environmentally responsible industrial development will enable the off-grid community to replace its dependence on diesel power with biomass and support economic opportunities.
"We are capitalizing on the use of sustainably harvested local forest products to reduce carbon emissions, create local employment opportunities and achieve greater energy self-sufficiency," explained Mackett. "The facility will produce sufficient energy to power Whitesand and the neighbouring communities of Collins and Armstrong, as well as the pellet plant, other businesses and future growth opportunities."
Whitesand First Nation, with approximately 1200 members and an on-reserve population of 400, is located 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, near the northern tip of Lake Nipigon. The Bio-Economy Centre will bring much needed jobs and skills development to the remote community. Construction of the Centre will begin in late summer 2018 and is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2020. Approximately 70 people will gain meaningful employment in the various plants and related forestry operations.
Mackett says the community began its journey in 1992 with a common vision of energy independence and its progress is a testament to the community's strong leadership and unwavering commitment. The community has long recognized the interdependencies between society, culture, the environment, education and economic development.
"It's easy to give up," stated Mackett. "What we had to keep in mind was whether the project's importance outweighed the difficulty and the barriers. In our case, the answer was a resounding yes."
Mackett also credited its funding partners, such has FedNor which invested $333,897 in 2013 to support the necessary technical and environmental studies, as well as engineering cost estimates for the construction of the pellet plant and cogeneration facility required to advance the project.
When asked, Mackett admitted that many communities are following the project with interest. "This is a community sustainability initiative, not just an energy project. The economic driver is this bio-economy project," clarifies Mackett. "We're just taking advantage of our unique situation and I would encourage others to do the same."