A 508-km transmission line in northern Alberta, partly owned by Indigenous communities, has been recognized with the International Edison Award, for bringing in Indigenous communities as true partners through significant engagement, strong relationships and equity ownership. Presented annually by the Edison Electric Institute , it has long been the electricity industry’s most prestigious award.
Running from Wabamun, Alta. to Fort McMurray, the Fort McMurray West 500-kV Transmission Project was completed in 2019 by Alberta PowerLine (APL), a partnership between ATCO subsidiary Canadian Utilities and Quanta Services.
Indigenous relationships were essential to creating a project that was beneficial to everyone involved. APL conducted extensive engagement with local groups, conducting more than 3,000 in-person meetings with landowners and Indigenous communities to ensure that they understood the viewpoints of all constituents. APL also engaged with 27 Indigenous communities with traditional land use in proximity to the transition line. This feedback was integrated into the project plans.
Communities were also engaged as active participants throughout the project through significant contracts totalling $85 million, providing an opportunity for jobs, skills training and local economic development. These partnerships will continue for the next 35 years as part of contracts for the operation and maintenance of APL.
When the transmission project was energized three months early in March 2019, APL provided an opportunity for Indigenous communities to purchase equity ownership in the project. Later that year, seven Indigenous communities acquired a combined forty per cent equity in APL: Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Bigstone Cree Nation, Gunn Métis Local 55, Mikisew Cree First Nation, by way of its business arm, the Mikisew Group of Companies, Paul First Nation, Sawridge First Nation and Sucker Creek First Nation. Through this investment, they have become true partners in energy development occurring in their backyard, receiving a steady return from this investment for the long-term.
In a story written at the time of the sale, the leaders of Bigstone Cree Nation and Gunn Métis Local 55 were optimistic about the opportunities that this critical infrastructure would provide for their communities.
“It is important for a community like ours to be able to become active participants in energy development in our province,” said Chief Silas Yellowknee, Bigstone Cree Nation. “By taking partial ownership of this critical piece of infrastructure, we have become direct participants in Alberta’s energy sector. We know this is a valuable investment for our community and our people that will bring economic development and provide long-term benefits for generations to come.”
“Gunn Métis Local 55 (Lac Ste. Anne Métis) is very proud to be an Alberta PowerLine equity partner,” said Murleen Crossen, President, Gunn Métis Local 55. “The commitment shown by Canadian Utilities to walk the talk of economic reconciliation is something we hope to see other companies model. The transformation of the relationship, from stakeholder to co-owner of major energy infrastructure, is key to our efforts to build community economic development capacity for future generations."
APL is a shining example of how industry and Indigenous Peoples can work together to develop world-class energy infrastructure that benefits customers and communities alike. Looking forward, this state-of-the-art development will provide a blueprint for future critical energy infrastructure projects in Canada and around the world.
To learn more about this award-winning project, please visit ATCO.com/Edison.