Work to build Inuvik’s wind turbine, designed to make power in the town significantly cheaper and cleaner, is set to begin in January.
The territorial government told Cabin Radio work will begin next month on a six-kilometre access road to the planned site of the 80-metre turbine, east of the community.
At last estimate, the project was scheduled for completion by the fall of 2022. Project leaders had initially expected the work to take a little over a year, meaning the turbine may not be in full operation until 2023.
The 3.5-megawatt turbine is expected to put a major dent in Inuvik’s diesel consumption and make a sizeable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the territory.
Building wind power for Inuvik has been researched for more than a decade because the town is so diesel-hungry.
As the NWT’s largest off-grid community, Inuvik burns through more than five million litres of diesel each year according to a 2017 feasibility study for the wind turbine. The study states that’s “approximately half of all the diesel burned in NWT for electricity generation.”
In addition, the town uses just under four million cubic metres of natural gas annually. All of that diesel and natural gas has to come from southern Canada, though a subsidiary of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is working to develop a natural gas well on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula to restore some local supply.
Together, those levels of diesel and natural gas cost upward of $9 million annually to acquire for a town of around 3,000 people – and the cost can fluctuate significantly depending on fuel prices. Using those fuels produces an estimated 22 kilotonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
The territorial government says the wind turbine is expected to reduce diesel consumption by three million litres – more than half of the diesel Inuvik currently uses for electricity each year – and bring down emissions by six kilotonnes.
By comparison, every action the GNWT took to reduce emissions in the 2020-21 financial year resulted in a combined estimated emissions reduction of 3.6 kilotonnes. (In all, the NWT is trying to shed 200 kilotonnes of emissions annually by 2030.)
Three years ago, the project to build a wind turbine received $30 million in federal funding and $10 million from the territorial government. The turbine received a land use permit and water licence in November 2020.
Work was held up for a time as the Nihtat Gwich’in Council sought to block the turbine’s development over concerns about a reindeer grazing reserve on the same land. The council dropped its court challenge at the start of 2021.
The site of the turbine is Highpoint, a plateau rising about 100 metres above the Dempster Highway north of Inuvik’s airport. Measurements taken there suggest wind speeds are generally just above the six metres per second required to make sustained wind power feasible.
Initially, a site farther north of Inuvik had been considered. That site was ultimately ruled out as it was too far from the town to be economically viable. There is room for more turbines at the Highpoint site, and they would be comparatively cheap to install once the infrastructure connecting them to the town is in place, but currently the demand does not exist for more than one. (If anything, demand in the town is currently forecast to gradually decrease over time, though extra power could be used for building and water heating.)
The 2017 feasibility study estimated the current electricity demand in Inuvik at around four megawatts in winter and just under three megawatts in summer. Normally, natural gas is used where possible and diesel provides standby capacity.
The study said a wind turbine would be expected to cover the peak demand currently met by diesel, allowing diesel generators to be completely switched off “for some time during windy days.”
Overall, the study concluded that “while challenging, it is technically and economically feasible” to introduce wind power to the town – and the money saved could range from $1.6 million to $3 million annually. The turbine has an expected life of 15 to 25 years.
So far, wind power has been adopted almost nowhere else in the Northwest Territories. The exception is the Diavik diamond mine, which began using wind turbines in 2012. Rio Tinto, Diavik’s owner, says those turbines have saved 28 million litres of diesel and reduced emissions by a total of 75 kilotonnes in the subsequent years.
The turbine is not the only new power development coming to Inuvik.
A third liquefied natural gas tank will be installed at the town’s power plant by 2023, the territorial government said earlier this month.
Having three tanks will cut diesel use by an extra million litres each year and bring down emissions by 0.6 kilotonnes, the GNWT said in a news release. The extra tank will cost $1.25 million and is expected to save about $300,000 per year.