Alberta PowerLine (APL), a partnership between Canadian Utilities (CU) and Quanta Services, built the Fort McMurray 500-kV West Transmission Project in northern Alberta. Spanning 508 kilometres (km), the project is the longest 500 kilovolt (kV) AC transmission line in Canada. Valued at $1.6 billion, APL was the first transmission infrastructure P3 to be procured in Canada and is the largest P3 bond in Canadian history.
The project dates back to 2014, when APL was awarded the Alberta Electric System Operator’s (AESO) first-ever competitive public-private partnership (P3) contract for large-scale critical transmission infrastructure. After competing against 30 parties from around the world, we were selected to design, build, finance, own and operate the Fort McMurray West 500-kV Transmission Project. Energized in March 2019, the transmission line provides essential electricity and greater reliability, while enhancing the transmission system to meet the growing demands in northern Alberta, where geology, weather and access are particularly challenging.
With this project, we have developed a new model for energy infrastructure for the full life cycle of project development, from securing innovative funding sources right through to developing strong relationships that enabled Indigenous communities to purchase an equity stake in the long-term asset.
PARTNERING FOR SUCCESS
We engaged extensively with landowners and communities as we designed and constructed the project. Over a three-year period, we engaged with 27 Indigenous communities with traditional land use in proximity to the transmission line. We held more than 3,000 in-person meetings to ensure that we understood the concerns and viewpoints of all constituents and integrated their feedback into our plans.
Our firm commitment to Indigenous involvement continued with the implementation of our Indigenous contracting strategy. We awarded $85 million worth of contracts to Indigenous communities and their contractors, creating jobs, offering skills training and stimulating local economic development. Centuries-old culture, histories and local knowledge helped us in shaping the route and our Caribou Protection Program, which has set a new standard for construction. We will continue to foster strong relationships with Indigenous communities in the area through maintenance and operational contracts as part of our 35-year contract with the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO).
UNLOCKING LONG-TERM DEVELOPMENT THROUGH INDIGENOUS PARTNERSHIPS
APL truly exemplifies a new model for the world on how industry and Indigenous communities can work together to develop energy infrastructure that benefits all parties. Following the early energization of the line in March 2019, we announced that we had entered definitive agreements for the sale of APL in June. As part of the sale process, we offered Indigenous communities along the route the opportunity to purchase a total of 40 per cent equity in APL. With the completion of the sale in December 2019, seven Indigenous communities in Alberta now have a combined 40 per cent equity ownership in this essential Canadian energy infrastructure: 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.
This investment enables these communities to become direct owners and participants in Canada’s electricity sector and will contribute to long-term economic and social development. This successful ownership agreement was only made possible through the strong, mutually beneficial partnerships that we have fostered with Indigenous communities since the beginning of the project in 2014.