North

Taltson expansion key to reducing N.W.T.'s greenhouse gas emissions, says gov't

‘We don't have another project that is as viable and as attractive for meeting the reduction of greenhouse gases in this territory,’ says assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure.

Taltson would account for 44 per cent of greenhouse gas reduction target

Climate change officials with the N.W.T. government, left to right: Andrew Stewart, director of energy for the Department of Infrastructure; John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister for Infrastructure; Erin Kelly, deputy minister of Environment and Natural Resources; and Nathan Richea, assistant deputy minister of environment and climate change for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The Northwest Territories's plan to fight climate change puts a heavy emphasis on changing the way electricity is produced in the territory — especially on the proposed Taltson hydroelectric expansion. 

Staff from the departments of Energy and Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, presented the 2030 N.W.T. Climate Change Strategy Framework to MLAs in the standing committee on economic development and environment on Thursday. 

The goal is to have "a strong, healthy economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels" and to "increase resilience and adapt to the changing northern climate," the framework reads.

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada — and by extension, the territory — is obliged to get greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels in the next 10 years. 

What if Taltson fails?

Getting renewable energy all the way to existing mines via the proposed Taltson expansion would account for 44 per cent of the greenhouse gas reduction target, said John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure. 

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green questioned what the plan would be if the Taltson expansion fails to go ahead. 

We don't have another project that is as viable and as attractive for meeting the reduction of greenhouse gases.- John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure

"We do depend on the Taltson project to meet our greenhouse gas commitments going forward," Vandenberg said. "These projects can certainly be delayed, but were they to be cancelled, we don't have another project that is as viable and as attractive for meeting the reduction of greenhouse gases in this territory."

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly was also sceptical. 

"Without confirmed buyers, no money and no business case, it's just not going to go ahead," he said. "I think you should bump up your contingency planning now." 

The territory's framework document does say, "without federal support for Taltson, the N.W.T. will not be able to reach its target."

O'Reilly asked whether the departments had considered carbon offsets, renewable diesel — a fuel produced from plants, such as palm oil — or more home retrofits. 

Vandenberg noted a plan to double the budget of the Arctic Energy Alliance, which distributes green subsidies to homeowners. But, he added, "reaching the same reductions as Taltson would be challenging." 

Smaller capital projects

The territorial framework includes several small-scale infrastructure projects that will reduce greenhouse gases and cut costs for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, including a $40 million wind turbine project in Inuvik, and community solar projects. 

The territory's plan includes a number of small-scale infrastructure projects that will reduce greenhouse gases and cut costs for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

O'Reilly took aim at one project: a $21 million transmission line that would connect Whatì to the North Slave hydroelectric grid by 2022. A similar line is slated to bring Kakisa and Fort Providence into the South Slave grid — at a cost of $26 million.

O'Reilly suggested mini hydro could be produced for three Tłı̨chǫ communities for the same cost. 

Stewart said mini hydro could cost around $30 million per community, and that the transmission line is a way to build more resilience in the system overall, using proven technology. 

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson pointed to a "structural challenge" with several of the proposed renewable energy projects: they don't lower electricity costs. 

That's because the power corporation still has its fixed cost to operate. With fewer people using the resulting electricity, the prices simply go up. 

Stewart suggested looking at the benefits over time. He also noted the government can't ultimately control the costs set by the N.W.T. Public Utilities Board.  

This chart from the 2030 N.W.T. Climate Change Strategy Framework indicates the percentage of sources of the territory's emissions. (Government of Northwest Territories)

More analysis needed, MLAS say

MLAs also wanted to know how decisions around reducing greenhouse gas emissions are made, noting wildly different costs to achieve similar reductions. 

"What's the most efficient way to lower tonnages of carbon dioxide?" asked Johnson. "Where's that analysis?"

Vandenberg said different projects have different rates of return.

"Using a dollar metric would focus us all on industry," he said, noting the economics scale of a retrofit at a diamond mine is much bigger than in a small community, like Jean Marie River. 

But O'Reilly pressed for more analysis. 

For the cost of Taltson, he said, "could we get all of our communities off diesel? I don't know. I'd like to know." 

He characterized the territory's electricity infrastructure plans as a "wish list." 

"I know that's what it was during the last cabinet. It shouldn't be during this one." 

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