Advertisement.

NWT releases new energy action plan after first one misses target


The Northwest Territories has released its latest action plan designed to guide emissions reduction, renewable energy adoption and energy efficiency.

The NWT has already committed to a “secure, affordable and sustainable energy system that is less dependent on fossil fuels” by 2030, including a goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels.

The 12-page action plan released on Thursday is the second three-year plan released since 2019, each designed to move the territory closer to those targets.

Advertisement.

However, a target of reducing emissions by 57 kilotonnes between 2019 and 2022 has been missed, the territory said. The initiatives in both its first plan and second plan combined are now expected to produce just a 51-kilotonne reduction by 2025 instead.

New investments between 2022 and 2025 will only bring a 3.3-kilotonne reduction in emissions, the territory said. Almost all of the new 51-kilotonne forecast comes from programs already in motion.

Between 2022 and 2025, the NWT government says it will spend almost $195 million on new and continuing programs.

Three-quarters of that will be spent on a goal of reducing communities’ diesel emissions by an average of 25 percent by 2030. Most of the spending has already been announced.

Projects designed to help achieve that goal include, among others:

Advertisement.

  • building a hydro line to Fort Providence and Kakisa ($59.2 million budgeted in the plan);
  • completing Inuvik’s wind turbine project ($10.3 million);
  • continued work on a hydro line to Whatì ($18.5 million);
  • community LNG projects ($10.1 million); and
  • overhaul work worth $22.3 million on NWT Power Corporation hydro infrastructure.

Elsewhere in the plan, at least $1.2 million is earmarked for electric vehicle support on the highways between Yellowknife and the south, plus $300,000 for electric vehicle rebates and fast charging stations (though the cost of such stations so far appears to outweigh available funding).

A rebate for electric bikes will be introduced after being raised as a possibility in the legislature. The GNWT is also exploring rebates for electric snowmobiles and electric boats.

$11.4 million is set aside for retrofits that improve GNWT assets’ energy efficiency. Grants to help businesses and governments reduce emissions will continue, pending receipt of federal funding.

The plan also includes $200,000 to “create a new program for low-income households to address energy poverty.”

Advertisement.

Will the 2030 target be reached?

The GNWT says its work from 2019 to 2025 will reduce emissions by 51 kilotonnes annually.

According to the territorial government’s math, if emissions reductions work out as planned, the NWT will need to make a further 143-kilotonne annual reduction between 2025 and 2030 to hit its stated target.

“This new action plan is realistic and achievable, and is key to achieving the long-term economic, social and environmental well-being of the territory and its residents,” said infrastructure minister Diane Archie in a news release.

The GNWT has repeatedly stated that expanding the Taltson hydro system, to offer more cheap hydro to the North Slave and the mining industry, will achieve the rest of the goal.

However, that expansion – which would cost up to a billion dollars and maybe more – so far has no funding beyond comparatively tiny sums for planning.

The Taltson hydro system’s Twin Gorges facility is seen in a photo included in a 2007 regulatory submission.

The NWT government is reliant on the federal government being persuaded of Taltson’s promise.

Canada’s infrastructure minister, Dominic LeBlanc, said in May there was a “very clear path” to funding the Taltson hydro expansion, but nothing has been confirmed.

The action plan released by the NWT on Thursday includes $10.8 million in federal funding to continue planning the eventual expansion in the hope it takes place.

More broadly, the GNWT says it isn’t yet adopting the federal target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Preliminary analysis conducted by the GNWT indicates this target will be hard to reach in the NWT given the limited availability of demonstrated zero-carbon technologies in the North,” the action plan states.

At a later date, the plan continues, “the GNWT will work with its partners to estimate the technical feasibility and cost of the NWT potentially committing to a greater GHG emissions reduction target, including investigating whether a net-zero target by 2050 is possible in the North.”

Net metering guidance

Not every significant action in the plan comes with a big-ticket cost.

For example, barely any money is assigned to the potentially key action of deciding how net metering should evolve.

Net metering is a program that allows residents who generate their own renewable energy – for example, using solar panels on their homes – to sell their excess energy to the local grid.

Sunlight hits a pool of melted snow and solar panels atop the Liidlii Kue First Nation's office in Fort Simpson on March 19, 2019
Sunlight hits a pool of melted snow and solar panels atop the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation’s office in Fort Simpson. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

One perceived problem with net metering is that while the program encourages renewable energy adoption in some communities, the NWT Power Corporation says it’s leaving the utility provider out of pocket and less able to maintain its own infrastructure, to the detriment of other customers.

More: Read the 2022-2025 energy action plan in full

There are also concerns about the literal power balance in some communities: how much comes from “intermittent renewable” energy – the kind provided by home solar panels – is currently capped, to ensure demand won’t outstrip supply if the amount provided by renewables drops (for example, on a dark day with no wind).

The action plan states the GNWT will give the Public Utilities Board – the regulator of power utilities in the territory – “policy direction” on net metering and renewable capacity in communities, helping to set a path forward for the NWT’s approach to renewable energy.