N.W.T. alternative energy subsidies grow along with demand — not enough some say

Energy-conscious residents in the Northwest Territories are calling on the new government to lead the charge for alternative energy in the territory — such as solar, wind and biomass.
Mike Freeland spent $20,000 to outfit his Yellowknife home with solar panels, with a government rebate covering a further $7,500. He says it will take about 11 years to recoup his investment. 'I would strongly encourage government to put more money into the same pot.' (CBC)

Energy-conscious residents in the Northwest Territories are calling on the new government to lead the charge for alternative energy in the territory — such as solar, wind and biomass.

"Solar is there. We should be using it," says Yellowknife homeowner Mike Freeland, who says he's saved hundreds of dollars since he installed a five-kilowatt solar photovoltaic (PV) panel system on his home in July.

Along with reducing Freeland's environmental footprint, Freeland says the goal is to "end up with very little or zero power bill at the end of the year."  

He admits the $28,000 project wouldn't have made sense without help from the territorial government, which offered a rebate of about $7,500 through its Alternative Energy Technologies Program. He says it could take up to 11 years to recoup the $20,000 cost to himself.

Freeland is among 47 homeowners and businesses from across the territory who applied for alternative energy rebates this year.

"We have concerns about costs of diesel and electricity in Yellowknife. It's only going to go up," Freeland says. 

"I would strongly encourage government to put more money into the same pot."

Growing demand

The government allocated roughly more than half a million dollars in total rebates to help buy and install solar systems, biomass boilers, and wood pellet stoves, according to the Arctic Energy Alliance — the not-for-profit that administers territory's alternative energy and efficiency rebate programs.

Louis Azzolini of the Arctic Energy Alliance says more people are choosing alternative energies from a purely financial standpoint. (CBC)
"Most of that funding was spoken for by the middle of August," says Louie Azzolini, the alliance's executive director. To meet the demand, Azzolini says the territory committed an estimated $1.8 million in supplementary money this fall for this and new initiatives over the next two years.

Azzolini says demand is growing because the economics make more sense. He cites net metering — the ability to sell surplus electricity back to the grid — and the decreasing costs of solar technology.

"Four years ago (applicants were) people who were philosophically oriented toward that particular energy source. What I am seeing now are people who are interested in it purely from a financial business standpoint," Azzolini says.

"It hits home with the user when they are looking at their bill and they realize the savings that are generated."

'Dabbling' instead of 'diving in'

According to the GNWT's last budget, by the end of this fiscal year, it will have spent just over $16 million in energy initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the cost of living over the last four years.

Former Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley says when it comes to alternative energy, the N.W.T. government has been 'dabbling where they need to be diving into it.' (CBC)
Commitments for 2015-16 include $200,000 for a wind energy feasibility project near Inuvik and another north of Yellowknife near the Snare hydro system, as well as $1 million for wood pellet boilers in Tulita and Fort Good Hope.

Former Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley says alternative energy subsidies are a start but people need to see a return on their investment faster. "Right now (the government has) been dabbling where they need to be diving into it."

Bromley says the government has been good at equipping its own facilities with biomass boilers — 22 since 2007 — helping the territory's biomass industry to mature.

"We are now finally, in a modest way, stepping out into the communities."  

As an example, Bromley cites the solar-diesel-battery project in Colville Lake.

The GNWT also funded more than 90 percent of a football-sized solar energy project in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., the largest in northern Canada.

But Bromley says more than two thirds of the territory's communities still rely mostly on diesel. And by the end of this year, the territory will have spent close to $50 million over two years to offset increased diesel generation due to low water levels at territory's hydro facilities — a problem Bromley says likely won't go away.

"The pain could have been a lot less had we adopted things a lot earlier."

Bromley says an Energy Efficiency Act — that would set territorial wide standards for private, commercial, government and public infrastructure — would also make a big difference.

That's something the last assembly was considering, but never passed into law. 


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