Canada Invests $35 Million in First Nation Biomass CHP Project

March 8, 2023
The funds will be used to develop a biomass CHP facility that will be connected to an existing microgrid.

The Canadian government has awarded Whitesand First Nation’s Sagatay Co-Generation $35 million to develop a combined heat and power (CHP) plant and connect it to a local diesel microgrid.

The 6.5-MW facility will use local wood waste to produce electricity for Whitesand First Nation —  which owns Sagatay Co-Generation — as well as the surrounding communities of Armstrong and Collins, Ontario.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s natural resources minister, said the “federal investment is helping to power low-carbon solutions in the region while supporting Indigenous leadership.”

A long-term vision of energy independence

Whitesand First Nation Chief Allan Gustafson said the Whitesand people have long had a vision of energy independence and economic development driven by local renewable resources.

Located about 150 miles north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, they first proposed this biomass cogeneration facility in 1992.

Gustafson went on to say that “despite the many barriers we have faced through the years, we did not give up and today our vision of a sustainable future through the use of our local forest is at hand.”

Reducing emissions and energy costs

Whitesand First Nation is currently supported by a diesel-powered microgrid, which consumed over 340,000 gallons of fuel in 2022.

The CHP project will reduce the amount of diesel fuel needed for heating and electricity across the three communities, which will lower energy costs and emissions, as well as improve air quality.

The project will show other remote and indigenous communities how biomass heat and power can be efficient and cost effective.

Supporting the local economy

Both Whitesand leadership and the Canadian government say that the CHP facility will encourage the economic development of the remote indigenous community by providing new jobs and opportunities in the local bioeconomy.

Patty Hajdu, Canada’s indigenous services minister and a member of parliament, said the project would help the entire region and that “this is economic reconciliation in action.”

Whitesand will be home to the Bio-Economy Center, which will include a new wood pellet plant and a wood merchandising yard. Both will be heated and powered by the new CHP plant and microgrid.  

Indigenous communities benefit from microgrids

Often remote and off-grid, many indigenous communities have turned to microgrids and renewable energy to ensure reliable power for their members. In 2019, Gull Bay First Nation commissioned a hybrid solar plus storage microgrid in partnership with Ontario Power Generation.  In 2021, the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation in British Columbia completed their own renewable energy microgrid.

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About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. If you’re presenting at a Microgrid Knowledge conference, you can expect to hear from me at some point! I have over 25 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. For the past five years, I’ve focused exclusively on recreational vehicles, electric vehicles, and the renewable energy industry, where I’ve written about utilities, solar, and wind energy companies (I like to keep things diverse!). I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.


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