The Northwest Territories aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels through a medley of strategies released on Tuesday.

Three new documents will shape the territory’s approach to energy, climate change, and oil and gas development over the next 12 years.

Included are initiatives to move NWT communities away from diesel, use the territory’s own natural gas instead of imported fuel, and spark increased interest in electric vehicles.

However, staff admit many of the actions outlined are ‘aspirational’ in nature.

Almost half of the emissions goal is predicated upon the Taltson Hydro Expansion – a vastly expensive project connecting the NWT to the south in one, cohesive grid – being built.

That project has been a territorial ambition for years but is nowhere near being funded.

“We need a transformative project like Taltson to fill that gap and achieve our objectives,” said Andrew Stewart, the territory’s director of energy. “Taltson is not a funded initiative by any sense and would require significant resources.”

Other means

Estimates place the total cost of the Taltson project at more than a billion dollars. If it goes ahead, the project would connect the North and South Slave grids, provide power north to the diamond mines, and hook up with Alberta or Saskatchewan to the south.

The territory believes this would significantly reduce power costs both for residents and industry, while allowing the NWT to sell renewable energy to southern provinces.

“There is work under way to understand what opportunities there are for Alberta and Saskatchewan to displace coal,” said Stewart. “I don’t know that we’re really high on the list, but we’re in the mix.”

While the territory pursues funding for the Taltson expansion, it outlined other means of reducing emissions in a new energy strategy and a framework for addressing climate change.

If all goes to plan, the territory in 2030 “will enjoy a strong, healthy economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels and will have developed the knowledge, tools and measures needed to increase resilience and adapt to the changing northern climate,” said environment director Lisa Dyer.

Efforts to mitigate climate change will include the implementation of carbon pricing – though the details are yet to be provided – alongside plans to help communities adapt to changing conditions, fund more research, and better track emissions.

An action plan due to start in 2019, which remains under development, will outline specific programs and projects in these areas.

One example is the mapping of hazards in or near communities, relating to issues such as coastal erosion sites or changing permafrost, to help identify where future development should occur.

‘Incremental changes’

Energy initiatives in the next few years are led by a push to install wind turbines in Inuvik, which the territory says will meet 36 percent of its goal to reduce diesel emissions.

Stewart said: “We’d like to submit [the Inuvik wind project] to the federal government machinery in the next couple of months and see what spits out.”

The territory will also aim to connect more communities either to liquid natural gas or the existing NWT grid.

Connecting Fort Providence to the grid via transmission lines, earmarked for year three of the strategy, would allow the territory to install electric charging points without increasing diesel generation and create a ‘corridor’ for zero-emissions vehicles.

The territory is also pledging subsidies for private electric vehicle ownership and even exploring the potential for some of its own fleet to go electric; though, again, Stewart said that remains an aspiration rather than a commitment.

“This is not something where we’re going to see a massive transformation,” he said. “It’s much easier to think about things like installing auxiliary diesel heaters for tractor cabs, so you reduce idling and you reduce the emissions of that vehicle.

“If we can understand how our fleets operate and consider software that would track them, we can improve idling and make a lot of incremental changes to that system.”

Own energy

The third document, a petroleum resources strategy, promises a 15-year-plan to make the NWT more competitive in the sector, bringing more benefits to residents.

At the moment, the territory’s oil and gas sector is virtually devoid of action.

With that in mind, the strategy calls for the NWT to use its own energy instead – taking natural gas produced locally and using it to power small communities.

“Using our own natural gas will both reduce the environmental impacts of diesel reliance as well as create energy security and economic benefits,” said petroleum resources director Menzie MacEachern.

Measures in the documents are, in part, a response to 2015’s Paris climate accord and Canada’s resulting emissions reduction commitments.

The NWT has around $250 million in federal infrastructure money to help fund its energy strategy in the next decade, coupled with roughly $90 million of its own cash.

Separately, the territory is finalizing an agreement worth around $30 million to access federal climate change funding. That money will be used to help initiatives that reduce emissions related to heating and transportation, and increase energy efficiency.

Neither parcel of money is remotely near the sum required for connection to the southern grid, but Stewart said it remained “more than we’ve ever had before to invest in energy.”

The territory is expected to continue lobbying the federal government for more investment.

“It’s aspirational and visionary,” Stewart said of the energy strategy, “but if we’re going to do our part then we need some transformative changes – and transformative investments in the North.”