Canada utility, Cree council agree on 200-MW Wuskwatim

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation is to vote in June on a partnership with Manitoba Hydro to build the 200-MW Wuskwatim hydroelectric project, proposed for a site on the Burntwood River in north-central Manitoba.

A project development agreement between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Council formalizes the partnership, contracts, and other components needed to build and operate the project. The agreement, announced March 30, is subject to ratification by the First Nation’s members in votes June 7 and 14. Provincial and federal approvals also are needed for the project to advance.

If approved, construction could begin in December or early 2007. The planned in-service date is 2012.

The powerhouse would be built at Taskinigahp Falls, 40 kilometers southeast of Nelson House, in the Nelson House Resource Management Area. Wuskwatim would have minimal effects on the environment and flood less than a square kilometer, the parties said.

Development to bring opportunities to Nisichawayasihk Crees

The agreement includes provisions to ensure near-term revenue opportunities for Cree businesses and joint-venture partnerships, including about C$100 million (US$86 million) in construction-related contracts. It includes financing support for Cree investment, and risk and liability protections.

The agreement gives the First Nation an opportunity to own up to a third of the project, with the long-term potential to earn millions of dollars in profits from energy sales. That revenue stream would strengthen the sustainability of the First Nation and the well-being of its members, said Nisichawayasihk Council member W. Elvis Thomas, who represented the Crees in the negotiations.

Manitoba Hydro President Bob Brennan said the partnership ensures there will be immediate and long-term benefits to local people. The Nisichawayasihk Crees will benefit from training, jobs, business opportunities, and project financial returns, Brennan said. The First Nation’s nearly 4,000 members live primarily in Nelson House, South Indian Lake, Thompson, Brandon, and Winnipeg.

Manitoba Hydro estimates costs for the hydroelectric project and associated transmission facilities total C$1.2 billion (US$1.1 billion), up from an earlier projection of C$980 million (US$857 million). It cited rising costs of construction materials during a longer-than-anticipated development process.

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