Power Corp: Renewables Redundant

The Northwest Territories Power Corp. (NTPC) is no longer following up on its pre-election callout for potential solar and wind projects for the North Slave, claiming that increased snowfall this winter should be sufficient to keep the existing Snare hydro system running smoothly.

The publicly-owned electricity provider put out a request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) last November, looking for a potential joint venture that could provide 10 megawatts of electricity to communities on the Snare hydro system using solar, wind or both.

Those communities include Yellowknife, Behchoko, N’dilo and Dettah, all of which get the bulk of their power from hydroelectricity but have been running on costly diesel over the past two winters due to record low water levels on the Snare.

“The argument is that we already have renewable energy through hydro, so why replace that with another? The counter-argument would be, well, how come that hasn’t worked for the last two years then? How come we’re relying on diesel?”

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Last fall, former minister responsible for NTPC Michael Miltenberger put out the EOI with the hopes that a solar or wind installation located at the Snare hydro facility could provide power over the summer, allowing water levels to replenish enough to provide electricity during the winter months and thereby offsetting the need for diesel.

But applicants were told earlier this month that their responses, which were due in February, would no longer be considered.

“Water levels are looking very different than they did last fall with our reservoirs returning to more normal water levels,” NTPC spokesperson Pam Coulter said in an email to EDGE.

“NTPC has since put the EOI on hold until will have a clearer picture of the long term water levels.”

Coulter did not provide information on the number of respondents.

Placing their bets

According to NTPC board vice-chair Jack Van Camp, the decision was a directive from the GNWT.

“We were told that they will not be moving forward with solar in Yellowknife,” he said. “They’re placing their bets on hydro with diesel backup.”

No one from the GNWT would provide comment, but according to Van Camp, the board was told the GNWT feels there has been sufficient snowfall this past winter to render other renewables redundant.

“What they’ve said is, they’re not interested in solar that competes with hydro,” Van Camp said. “The argument is that we already have renewable energy through hydro, so why replace that with another? The counter-argument would be, well, how come that hasn’t worked for the last two years then? How come we’re relying on diesel?”

A spokesperson with Environment and Natural Resources told EDGE the snowfall surveys are still underway and are expected to be completed by the end of April. Information on the coming fire season and drought code levels will be shared in early May. Coulter said NTPC did its snow pack survey on the Snare system last week and the snow pack measurements, along with the influx of water at Snare this winter, indicate that this summer will be a return to more normal water levels.

Residents in the NWT have seen massive increases in power rates since 2008, when the price of diesel spiked and left NTPC with a huge pile of debt. What followed was a four-year general rate increase of 28.4 percent thrust onto ratepayers, in addition to a $30-million government subsidy.

Since then, NTPC has relied on two further bailouts from the GNWT caused by low water levels and Yellowknife’s newfound reliance on diesel, totalling $50 million.

As of the end of January, NTPC had only spent about a third of the most recent $30-million subsidy, and indicated the remainder would be returned to the GNWT.

The Power Corp.’s next general rate application will take place in 2017.

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