N.W.T. hydro proposal goes back to review board

A proposed major N.W.T. hydroelectric expansion project is going back to a review board, after federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan rejected the board's recommendations.

A proposed major hydroelectric expansion project in the Northwest Territories is going back to a review board, after federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan rejected the board's recommendations.

Duncan said he is not prepared to approve Dezé Energy Corp.'s $700-million Taltson expansion project based on the assessment submitted by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, which completed its environmental assessment of the proposed work in August.

In a letter to the board, dated Dec. 10, Duncan said the scope of the board's review on the project is not complete, particularly on the issue of power lines from the Northwest Territories Power Corp.'s Taltson River dam to the territory's three diamond mines north of Yellowknife.

Duncan said the review board made its recommendations without knowing what route the power transmission lines will follow, raising major questions about the expansion project's overall environmental impact.

"The report fails to fully assess the potential impacts of a transmission line as a necessary part of the development, and therefore, the assessment of the development is incomplete," he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CBC News on Tuesday.

Line route a contentious issue

The proposal to expand the 44-year-old Taltson dam, located about 56 kilometres northeast of the Alberta-N.W.T. border, is being spearheaded by Dezé Energy, which is a joint venture between the Northwest Territories Energy Corp., the Akaitcho First Nation and the N.W.T. Métis Nation.

The joint venture wants to supply the diamond mines with hydroelectricity from the dam, so the mines could cut down on their diesel use.

Dezé Energy initially wanted to run a 700-kilometre transmission line from the dam directly to the diamond mines, crossing the Lockhart River by the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake.

But that proposal has been strongly opposed by the Lutselk'e Dene First Nation, who say the transmission lines would run through an area considered to be sacred to them.

Dezé Energy has said alternative routes that have since come up would cost much more to execute than the Lockhart River proposal.

Can't delegate decision: Duncan

In August, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board recommended that the Taltson proposal go ahead, but it made no decision on the route of the transmission line other than to say the Lockhart River would be off-limits.

Instead, the board ordered Dezé Energy to set up an advisory committee to recommend another route.

"The responsible ministers do not accept that an environmental assessment of, and a decision on, a final transmission line route can be delegated by the review board to a routing committee," Duncan said in his letter to the review board.

Duncan ordered the board to resubmit its recommendations once a corridor for the transmission lines has been determined and properly evaluated.

The minister asked the board to "consider means of obtaining additional information from the developer and the potentially affected parties, including aboriginal groups, land owners and rights holders in the area, in order the address the deficiencies we have noted."

Want to import, export power: power corp.

Late last week, the new chairman of the Northwest Territories Power Corp. said he is confident a new route for the Taltson transmission lines will be determined.

Brendan Bell told CBC News that Lutselk'e Dene First Nation officials has told him they would support the project as long as they agree with the transmission line route.

Bell said he ultimately hopes the Taltson expansion project will allow the Northwest Territories to export and import hydroelectric power.

"The endgame for us, although it's going to take us time to get there, is to have a grid that ties into southern Canada," he said Thursday.

"The grid and the connectively allows us to trade power back and forth, build developments that we want to see built [and] export power in the future, after we've taken care of our own needs. It just makes sense, it gives us so many more options."

Bell said the power corporation is looking for ways to wean the N.W.T. off diesel fuel, which is the primary form of power generation in remote northern communities.