Electricity in the Northwest Territories

A look at the generation and distribution of electricity in the Northwest Territories
Electricity in the Northwest Territories is created from a variety of sources, mainly hydro, gas and diesel. Rates are among the highest in the country and vary depending on location. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Northwest Territories

Avg. price: variable

2010 capacity: 151.5 MW

2020 forecast capacity: no estimates

Peak use: 73 MW

Cross-border trade:0

GHG emissions (2008): 72,228 tonnes

Green targets: Successfully reduced GHG emissions to 53 per cent below 1990 levels.

Electricity in the Northwest Territories is a strictly local affair, as the long distances between small population centres makes the transportation of energy unworkable. As a result, the publicly owned utility, Northwest Territories Power Corporation, relies on a mix of sources — mostly hydro, gas and diesel — based on whatever is most cost-efficient. It operates 28 separate power systems spread over 1.1 million square kilometres.

Since the late 1980s the territory has gradually weaned itself off of diesel fuel and shifted to hydro and natural gas power — in 2009 N.W.T. burned only 12.8 million litres of to generate 12 per cent of its power compared to 57 million litres in 1988. Today hydro and natural gas provide the territory with 79 per cent and nine per cent of its power respectively, although diesel is still the backbone of power generation in more remote northern communities.

Residential rates can vary depending on geographic location — and are among the highest in the country — although the government has moved to harmonize prices during the last six months. In December 2010, the number of rate-specific regions was reduced from 33 to seven and some rates were capped. As a result of price reductions, communities like Colville Lake pay 47.39 ¢/kWh, compared to the previous rate of 230.27 ¢/kWh.

The territory has made significant progress on its green targets, according to its 2009/2010 Greenhouse Gas Report. The NTPC produced 65,922 tonnes of CO2 equivalent-emissions last year, a 53 per cent decrease from 1990 levels.

As in Nunavut, economy of scale is a challenge in N.W.T. as communities often need their own power generation solution and can’t justify generating it in large amounts because they would have nowhere to sell the excess energy. In the short term, N.W.T. is hoping private-owned diamond mines could provide a potential export market to create an economy of scale while in the long term, the territory is mulling over the building of infrastructure to potentially supply Alberta with power.

With files from Raf Brusilow