MLA wants Ottawa to send N.W.T.'s climate-change plan 'back to the drawing board'

An MLA in the Northwest Territories is calling on the federal government to reject the territory’s 2030 climate-change strategy because it hinges on a massive expansion to the Taltson hydroelectric dam that has little hope of being completed without federal money.

Plan hinges on expansion of Taltson hydroelectric dam; MLA wants to see investments in smaller projects

The Northwest Territories climate-change plan envisions an expansion of the Taltson hydroelectric dam as a way to reduce industrial emissions. (N.W.T. Power Corporation )

An MLA in the Northwest Territories is calling on the federal government to reject the territory's 2030 climate-change strategy.

That's because it hinges on a massive expansion to the Taltson hydroelectric dam that has little hope of being completed without federal money.

Expanding the capacity at the hydroelectric generator on the Taltson River is the centrepiece of the territory's long-term energy strategy. It would reduce industrial emissions by 224 kilotons, or 44 per cent of the overall reductions required by the federal government's climate change bill. 

By the government's own admission, the Northwest Territories won't reach that target without federal money.

Its energy strategy report notes: "The Taltson development requires Government of Canada support to proceed. Without federal support for Taltson, the N.W.T. will not be able to reach its target." 

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says this plan fails to actually address emissions and is a veiled attempt for the government to get more infrastructure money from Ottawa.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly uses a heating system powered by wood pellets at his home in Yellowknife. He wants the territorial government to spend more on similar home renovation projects instead of the Taltson Dam. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
"There's no buyers for the power [from Taltson] that have been identified, no money for it," he said. "Go back to the drawing board. Taltson is too big of a project, it's not costed, there's no buyers, if I was the federal government, it's not the kind of plan I would want to accept."

But despite O'Reilly's criticism, the government is moving ahead with the first steps of the expansion that's been on-and-off the government's radar for about a decade.

An earlier proposal fell apart in 2013 because there wasn't enough demand for the extra power.

$200,000 to develop a new business case

Last week MLAs approved spending $200,000 to develop a new business case for the expansion. That money is made up of $150,000 from the federal government and $50,000 from the N.W.T.

"My understanding [is] there are no buyers at the moment, but give us the opportunity to go and do the work, do the initial studies, go present the business case to Canada," said Environment Minister Robert C. McLeod during a recent committee meeting.

"If this is an investment of $200,000 to allow us to do the initial work, then make a fairly good business case, and try and to secure funding, then we may be able to secure the buyers."

But at least one potential buyer does not appear interested in buying the extra power.

A spokesperson for Sask. Power confirmed it has not discussed the project with the Northwest Territories for more than a year. He said Saskatchewan is able to meet its customers' demand with the infrastructure it already has.

Spend more on smaller projects, O'Reilly says

For O'Reilly, the government is looking at the issue the wrong way. He objects to even spending that initial $200,000 because of the holes he sees in the plan.

He wants the government to spend more money on rebates to homeowners who retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient. He pointed to a switch he made to a wood pellet heating system at his own home as an example.

"We'd get a better bang for our buck," he said. "This will also help reduce the cost of living for people who have adopted these kinds of systems and create jobs in local communities."


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