A turbine blade in front of the tower on June 2, 2023. Photo: NTPC
Representatives from the NWT Power Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, and territorial and municipal governments gathered in Inuvik on Monday to celebrate the near-completion of a wind project.
The project has involved building a 3.5-megawatt wind turbine about 12 kilometres east of Inuvik, along with a battery storage system, an access road and distribution lines to connect the turbine to Inuvik’s existing power lines.
Once operational, the turbine is expected to meet 30 percent of Inuvik’s electricity requirements and cut 6,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
It will also be Canada’s most northerly wind turbine.
“It is a major development for the region,” said Lynne Couves, program director for the Pembina Institute’s Renewables in Remote Communities program.
On Monday, Diane Archie, the minister responsible for the NWT Power Corporation (NTPC), was joined by Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, Inuvik Mayor Clarence Wood and NTPC president and chief executive Cory Strang at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Although more work is needed before the turbine is fully operational, it is expected to begin generating power and contributing electricity to the Inuvik grid by September.
“This has been a complex project that’s required a lot of hard work from everyone involved to get to this point,” Archie was quoted as saying in a news release.
“That hard work has paid off and by investing in a project that will reduce Inuvik’s reliance on imported fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, we are creating a better future for the NWT.”
A brief history of a lengthy project
The imminent completion of the Inuvik wind project has been a long time coming.
Wind energy has been one of the territory’s priorities since the early 2000s, said Andrew Stewart, the NWT government’s director of strategic energy initiatives.
Stewart started working on the policy side of things in 2008. At that time, he said, wind was on the radar for some parts of the NWT, including Inuvik.
Wind monitoring began in 2016, he said, and a regulatory application was filed in 2018.
The turbine itself was ordered from German company Enercon in 2019, and construction on the project began in 2022, said Alex Love, chief projects and engineering officer with NTPC, which is in charge of construction.
Building a wind turbine in the Arctic has come with its fair share of challenges, he said.
“Definitely not the easiest spot in the world to build a wind turbine, that’s for sure.”
According to Monday’s press release, NTPC also estimates the project to cost more than $70 million – roughly twice the initial budget.
Love said the Covid-19 pandemic caused construction challenges, and later, a run on certain materials meant delivery times were longer than usual.
“The turbine blades are like 67 meters long, and to get them up via ship, highway and barge to Inuvik is a logistic challenge for sure,” he said. “There are only certain routes they can actually travel and make it around the corners.”
Love said specialized crews had to be brought in to assemble the turbine. To ensure the ground below the structure stays frozen, the team also installed thermosyphons in the foundation.
Love said crews focused on building the access road and the turbine’s foundations in 2022. The turbine was also delivered to Inuvik last summer.
Starting last fall and continuing into this year, Love said crews installed the tower’s base, finished road construction and built power lines. With the help of a crane, they assembled the turbine.
Now, Love said, crews are working to finish electrical connections and control systems, which will take about six more weeks.
In September, he anticipates the turbine to be ready for testing to ensure it works with the battery system as planned.
Putting a dent in diesel
Although the amount of power the turbine produces will vary depending on the wind, Love said it is projected to reduce fuel consumption at Inuvik’s power plant by 30 percent. This means it will displace up to 3 million litres of diesel per year, representing annual fuel savings of $3.4 million, according to the territorial government.
Couves said the project is an opportunity to reduce the high and volatile cost of living in diesel-reliant communities. She added diesel consumption also has implications for public health and the environment.
“Any effort made to reduce diesel dependency and the transition to cleaner renewable energy systems is beneficial,” she said.
Although Couves sees the project as a positive step, she said increased engagement and collaboration with Indigenous governments on energy projects would be beneficial going forward. She said communities and Indigenous leaders in the NWT are interested in developing renewable energy projects and reducing their reliance on diesel.
According to Stewart, Inuvik uses more diesel for electricity than any other NWT community, which is partly why the turbine is expected to have a sizeable impact.
One of the territory’s goals is to reduce emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent by 2030. Stewart said the Inuvik wind project alone represents about 8.5 percent of that target.
“It’s a material difference,” he said.
Stewart also pointed out the project will be the first megawatt-scale wind project to serve an NWT community.
The territory’s first large-scale wind turbines were installed at the Diavik Diamond Mine. A system of four 2.3-megawatt turbines saves around $5 million a year, the mine has previously said.
While wind energy has previously struggled to take off in northern Canada, the technology has proven effective in other Arctic regions.
In Alaska, for example, wind energy has been used for decades, according to Couves. The community of Kotzebue – located nearly as far north as Inuvik – installed its first turbine in 1997 and now has two 900-kilowatt wind turbines, she said.
Stewart said wind energy is now an “Arctic-proven option.”
The turbine installed in Inuvik, for example, comes with a “cold weather package,” according to Love. That includes a de-icing system for the blades and a gearbox with fewer mechanical parts to reduce the number of gears moving in cold weather.
The unit is rated to run at 100 percent power down to -30C, Love said. At temperatures below that, it will still be able to run at reduced power. The unit is also designed to shut down in the event of extreme winds.
Stewart said he is hopeful the turbine will work successfully, but tying a big energy source into a small grid requires careful management. He said a lot of lessons will be learned, which could be useful for future projects in the territory.
“Hopefully, it’s a stepping stone to more renewable energy integration over time,” he said.