Some MLAs on N.W.T. environment committee lukewarm to renewable diesel

Researchers have an idea on how to replace fossil diesel in the Northwest Territories, which they say can help reduce emissions in half. However, some MLAs on the environment committee seem lukewarm to the proposed ideas.

'I know it's going to take a while for anybody to warm up to using vegetable oil for running furnaces'

The town of Inuvik, N.W.T., show in a file photo from 2013, uses a mix of 60 per cent diesel and 40 per cent gas for power in the community. (CBC)

Researchers have an idea on how to replace fossil diesel in the Northwest Territories which they say can help reduce emissions in the territory by half. However, some MLAs on the N.W.T.'s environment committee seem lukewarm on the proposed ideas.

Andrew Robinson, a co-author of the Alternatives North report released in April called Climate Emergency: Getting the N.W.T. Off Diesel, says the government should be responding to climate change with urgency. He presented highlights of the report on Thursday during a public review by the standing committee on economic development and environment.

According to the data in the report, about 36 per cent of emissions in the territory comes from heavy duty diesel vehicles, like mining equipment including excavators, haul trucks and loaders.

Robinson suggested several options to the committee — three of which in particular that could be "surprisingly affordable" solutions.

Those include a transition to a plant and animal fat-based diesel (called renewable diesel), buying carbon offsets and using biomass, like wood pellets, to heat communities.

'Carbon neutrality in 15 years,' says Robinson

He says swapping to renewable diesel from fossil diesel won't be noticeable in terms of its functionality.

In the report, it says it could directly replace 200 million litres of fossil fuels in the N.W.T. or 370 million litres of fossil diesel and heating oil if formulated for winter use.

"Renewable diesel has a lot of potential, especially up in the mines ... we think we can get on to renewable diesel within five years and get a 50 percent reduction [of current fossil diesel fuel usage]," Robinson said.

"We think we can get to carbon neutrality in 15 years."

Alternatives North is a social coalition group. Robinson told the committee that the feasibility study has not been formally reviewed independently of the group.

Renewable diesel might not be welcome

The territory's current plan to fight climate change puts a heavy emphasis on changing the way electricity is produced, and especially on the proposed Taltson hydroelectric expansion.

Dehcho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge questioned whether a switch to what he called "vegetable oil" would be welcome.

"I know it's going to take a while for anybody to warm up to using vegetable oil for running furnaces and everything else. That's going to take a while even if [the government of the N.W.T.] warms up to it," he said.

Meanwhile, Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said she remains committed to the territory's current plan for a hydro system expansion.

"I have a group of Indigenous people that are going to own part of this Taltson expansion and I'm committed to the mandate of the 22 priorities that we set forth," Martselos said, adding getting off diesel is important.

"For me, the Taltson expansion is the best green energy that we could ever have and it's going to satisfy all the industry that we want in the future including all the people that are going to benefit from it."

With files from Sara Minogue


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