The NWT Power Corporation says work worth $66 million has been pushed back because of delays associated with Covid-19, last year’s ransomware attack, and regulatory or legal issues.
In a letter to power corporation minister Diane Archie this week, power corporation boss Noel Voykin said Covid-19 and the ransomware attack were together responsible for delaying work worth $34 million.
Voykin did not place a precise figure on the impact of the ransomware attack alone. The April 30, 2020 attack – using software named NetWalker that holds files hostage and allows an attacker to demand a ransom – took some services offline for six weeks and forced an Inuvik power plant to switch to manual control. The power corporation is still not sure how the hackers got into its systems.
Voykin said the attack “created delays in planning and approving capital projects as well as accessing drawings required to initiate design work.”
An overhaul of the Snare Forks hydro plant ($16 million), work on transmission lines ($5.5 million), refurbishment of a substation at Snare Falls ($1.9 million) and a new power plant for Sachs Harbour ($3 million) were the projects most affected by Covid-19 and the ransomware attack, the letter states.
Voykin said $16 million to complete the power corporation’s takeover of power delivery in Hay River still hasn’t been spent because of the ongoing legal dispute between the Town of Hay River and Northland Utilities. Hay River’s town council voted in 2016 to drop Northland Utilities as its power distributor and let the power corporation take over. A years-long legal battle over the value of power distribution equipment in the town has ensued.
Lastly, Voykin said $19.5 million was budgeted for work on a wind project in Inuvik but only $3.8 million was spent because of regulatory delays and legal challenges. The Nihtat Gwich’in Council has spent years opposing the development of a wind farm on land originally set aside as a reindeer grazing reserve.
In all, those delays mean work worth $65.7 million was affected.
As a result, and accounting for other fluctuations in power corporation spending, Voykin’s letter formally asks the minister to authorize a $62.2-million reduction in the 2020-21 capital budget of the corporation’s parent government-owned entity, NT Hydro.
That money is now expected to be spent in future years.
Equipment ‘reaching end of life’
Delays in repairing and improving the NWT’s power infrastructure are a concern as the power corporation has repeatedly said the state of its ageing equipment is a major problem.
Infrastructure in the NWT “is not just ageing but is reaching the end of its design life, particularly NTPC’s hydroelectric assets,” the corporation warns in its overarching plan for the year ahead, tabled in the legislature at the end of March.
Recent breakdowns in the North Slave hydro system have cost millions of dollars in replacement diesel and repair work.
The Snare Rapids hydro plant cost $600,000 in diesel after spending a month offline in February. Last year, two shutdowns related to oil leaks at Snare Falls cost at least $510,000. In all instances, the greater cost of repair work is not known.
Meanwhile, there is increasing political pressure for the power corporation to improve the reliability of supply to smaller communities.
In the legislature this week, Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty again called for work to make Whatì’s power supply more reliable after a 20-hour power outage left residents “freezing in the dark” in January.
The power corporation says it will embark on “the largest capital spending portfolio in the corporation’s history” in the financial year ahead – in part as a result of the past year’s delays.