Energy debate heats up N.W.T., town's mayoral race

The declining supply of natural gas in Norman Wells, N.W.T., is sparking debate just one week before voters take to the polls.

Cost to switch to biomass too expensive, mayoral candidate says

The most heated election issue in Norman Wells, N.W.T., is the declining supply of natural gas.

Dudley Johnson, the incumbent mayor of Norman Wells, says biomass is the town's best energy option. (CBC)

Imperial Oil has set a deadline of June 2013 for businesses to switch from natural gas, while the deadline for residents is one year later.

The two candidates running for the mayor's job have very different takes on what to do next.

Incumbent mayor Dudley Johnson has been promoting a proposal to convert the town to biomass.

"It can be converted back to natural gas, if natural gas comes back. It's the easiest to put in, and it's less change to people's homes," said Johnson.

Biomass the cheapest option: incumbent

Johnson added it is the cheapest, most reasonable option.

The biomass project could cost more than $38 million but Johnson said he is confident he could get federal grants in place by December to help pay for the transition.

But his opposition is not enthusiastic about the idea.

"It's just too expensive. It's overkill in my mind," said Gregor Harold McGregor, Johnson's challenger.

McGregor said people are worried about tying up the town's borrowing power, especially as Norman Wells faces a potential population increase and greater demands on its infrastructure due to the increased oil and gas exploration.

Biomass 'unproven' in North, McGregor says

McGregor works for the Sahtu Business Development Centre, which provides small business counselling and advisory services, as well as loans.

That business experience in Norman Wells has given McGregor a different point of view.

Gregor Harold McGregor, who is challenging to be the town's mayor, says the proposed biomass project is too expensive and also untested so far north. (CBC)

"The way it is and the way it's always been is that we're an oil town. There's propane available and there's wood pellets available on a private, individual basis if that's what you want, and that's the way it should be," he said.

McGregor said biomass heating systems are unproven so far north.

While heating is taking centre stage, voters say the other concerning issues are: how the landfill is run and how to prepare for the town's expansion.

The municipal election is Oct. 15.