Proponents of the stalled Taltson hydro expansion project are still months away from having a clear outline of possibilities for the future of the project, but the previous plan to run a transmission line around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake appears to be dead.
Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) Chair Brendan Bell told The Journal that all three transmission line routes from the previous incarnation of the Taltson expansion project have been taken off the table.
Those routes included the East Arm, across the Simpson Islands and around the west end of Great Slave Lake.
Now a whole new range of transmission options are being examined, taking into account a number of potential customers to supplement the diamond mines.
Bell said the plan is to have all Taltson expansion options presented to the government of the NWT by the time the 17th assembly takes power in October.
The proponents of the expansion, a three-way partnership between NTPC, Akaitcho Tribal Council and the NWT Métis Nation, were forced to reassess the Taltson expansion earlier this year after realizing that the diamond mines would not guarantee to purchase power for long enough to finance the estimated $700 million cost.
Bell, who started his role with NTPC in December 2010, said the project needed the diamond mines to agree to a 25-year power-purchaser agreement but the mines could only guarantee roughly 11 years of production.
Now the proponents are trying to determine other customers for Taltson power in addition to the diamond mines.
Options include selling power south into Alberta, converting some public buildings in Fort Smith and Hay River to electric heat and providing power to industrial customers in the South and North Slave regions, such as Avalon’s rare earth metals mine north of Great Slave Lake and Tamerlane’s lead/zinc mine at Pine Point, Bell said.
The previous transmission route options did not take into account the potential for multiple customers, as they were geared to providing all the power to the diamond mines. That has made the old routing options obsolete, as different sized line sizes may be needed to incorporate the different customers.
While Bell said that in a “perfect world” the government would have the ability to borrow money to finance the Taltson expansion project, the tight fiscal reality facing the NWT means he expects long-term purchaser agreements and private partners will be needed.
Meanwhile the NWT Energy Report, released two weeks ago, states that Taltson would be paramount to having a southern NWT energy grid.
“This project will be required if there is to be a North/South Slave grid, a development that would help manage load growth and reduce overall system costs in the long term,” the report states.
Bell agreed that a southern NWT grid was a long term goal of NTPC, and that the Taltson project was the “first priority” towards that goal.