Infrastructure issues – a federal funding wish list

Infrastructure issues  – a federal funding wish list

Provincial and territorial governments across Canada are eagerly compiling shopping lists to give the federal government – infrastructure wish lists so the feds will send money, honouring the Liberal promise to spark the economy and create jobs.

Our automotive feature section this week tells of bad NWT roads and their wear and tear on vehicles. Northerners not only pay higher prices for gas and services, their vehicles lose value faster too. The road into Kakisa is more like a wagon trail; hard-surfacing the last few kilometres of the highway into Wood Buffalo National Park would enhance tourism throughout the region; and that rollercoaster stretch between Behchoko and Yellowknife that sucks up hundreds of millions of dollars each decade has deteriorated again to the point it is a safety concern. Roads are a tempting item for the infrastructure upgrade list.

But wait! Community infrastructure deficits present a more compelling need. Behchoko is having troubles with its community water supply; Fort Smith’s sewage lagoon is not only at capacity, limiting local growth, it is perched on the edge of an unstable bank and could slide into the Slave River at any time; and many NWT towns suffer from aging water and sewer pipes which means replacing them by digging up roads and pavement. Fast tracking any of those using federal dollars would be a benefit, but a process of prioritization is needed. Every community should be canvassed annually to determine needs anyway, so hopefully that process is in hand.

Addressing compelling community problems is essential, but that approach is fragmented, and, like roads, an endless process. All have to be fixed at some point. Is there a better approach to optimize federal funds, a pressing need that could be resolved in one sweeping program?

What is the largest infrastructure issue facing the territory, one with universal impact on community life and the NWT economy?

The high cost and questionable reliability of electrical power challenges virtually every community. Tens of millions of dollars in power rate subsidies incurred in the last two years because low water levels limit hydroelectric capacity may be the tip of the iceberg. Even if drought conditions end, the old-tech diesel generators in all communities are aging and will need to be replaced; plus we need to move away from dependence on fossil fuels, integrating solar and wind power. A new, visionary solution is needed.

It makes sense to get off oil, reducing the carbon footprint on the planet, but wind and solar alone are not enough. Another robust, continual source of electricity is needed to back them up. New hydro dams are too expensive and present serious negative impacts on rivers and aquatic life. The NT Power Corp. is moving to use liquified natural gas (LNG), but aside from being unknown technology such that distribution and implementation in the territory would have to be started from scratch, the process of freezing the gas takes up so much energy it is equal to diesel oil in its carbon footprint, taking away its advantage. It makes more sense to stay with diesel as a transition fuel because it has an existing distribution system and a knowledge base, including trades people installing and servicing oil-fired furnaces and boilers.

If only there was a way to minimize use!? Well, there is. New solid state diesel generators claim to “dramatically reduce fuel consumption, emissions, sound, vibration and maintenance costs without impacting performance, safety or reliability.”

Community and grid power are generated as alternating current for use in homes. The reason new solid state generators are more efficient is they produce power as direct current. The DC power then needs to be converted to AC which, if done right, requires minimal energy loss. The good news is, solar and wind energy are also generated as DC power and would similarly need to be converted. All three fit together nicely.

That approach is scalable. As solar and wind capacity grows in years to come, along with new efficient, affordable batteries to store electricity, the need for diesel generators would diminish, to the point where they would be little used, yet always available as a backup.

While the NWT’s power generation situation is bad, Nunavut’s is approaching a crisis, with many community power installations well past their projected end-of-life.

A forward-looking solution is desperately needed, something all three territories with their considerable combined clout should be working on together. The NWT government has dabbled at costly energy generation experiments, but no good answers have been forthcoming. What better way to the future than a universal solution involving efficient diesel generation along with wind and solar as a matched set? It is a solution perfectly suited to federal infrastructure funding and would fix all those power problems at once.

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