New approach needed

Dear editor:
As the leader of a remote First Nation community, I recently attended a remote energy forum to discuss the challenges and issues facing First Nation communities across Northern Ontario with respect to hydro generation.
In attending this forum, it struck me that an important point is being overlooked by our First Nations and also by the provincial government.
Are people aware that there are “independent” hydro-generating First Nation communities who operate their own power supply and actually save millions of dollars in provincial subsidies across the region for our province?
Let me explain. The Province of Ontario is covered by a vast network of power lines, commonly known as a grid. Being part of this grid is how electricity moves from one area of the province to another.
This grid is out of reach for many First Nations located in remote areas of the province, meaning alternative ways to generate electricity are sought. These communities are called “off-grid communities,” and all of them use large diesel generators to produce enough electricity to meet community demands for power.
Off-grid communities are classified in two categories: Hydro One Remotes and Independents.
Hydro One Remote Communities Inc. is the organization that operates and maintains the production of electricity in 19 communities across Northern Ontario that are not connected to the province’s electricity grid.
When a First Nation is a member of Hydro One Remote Communities, it is eligible for subsidies to help cover the costs of fuel, maintenance, and operating costs of the generators.
In addition, Indian & Northern Affairs Canada also offers a federal subsidy that is pro-rated to suit each community.
Other “off-grid communities” that are known as “Independents” are not connected to the provincial power grid or the Hydro One remote system and, therefore, are responsible for all maintenance and costs associated with the generators.
What this means is that our “independent” communities are not accessing subsidies, saving the province and its taxpayers millions of dollars, yet we receive no additional consideration.
My community of Eabametoong First Nation is one of these independent communities that is struggling to support the rising costs of supplying power to its people without any government subsidies or additional purchasing power, but where is the incentive?
Like so many other First Nations, our people want to be self-sufficient and do not want to be a burden on the province. But surely some distinction needs to be made and some consideration afforded to those communities who take this approach.
Currently, our hydro prices range from $0.25 to $1.09 per kW/h, depending on the price of diesel, combined with the fact that this pushes our food prices through the roof (up to $14.25 for a bag of milk, incredibly challenging).
It’s time for a regional approach to our energy issues and the management of our resources. The municipalities and First Nations’ should meet and plan our future survival.
Chief Charlie Okeese
Eabametoong First Nation