NWT aims to solarize thermal communities

NWT aims to solarize thermal communities
Roger Kuptana at the solar panel installation at Polar Griz Lodge Sachs Harbour, a 4.3 kW grid interconnected solar array, installed in 2010.Photo: Randall Benson.

The territorial government hopes to have all 25 thermal communities in the NWT running on 20 per cent solar power in the next five years, according to the NWT Solar Strategy (2012-2017) released last Wednesday.

The department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) plans to tie approximately 1.8 MW of solar capacity to the existing grid, displacing 570,000 litres of diesel per year, with industry’s help.

Though installation comes with a hefty price tag of over $200 million at $12 per watt, annual maintenance costs are expected to be minimal and will be paid for in savings over the next three decades, according to the department. Assuming a two per cent annual increase on the cost of diesel, the government estimates savings of more than $28 million in unused fossil fuels over the 30-year lifespan of the solar systems.

Those systems will not be 100 per cent government owned, though. Much of the success of this solar strategy currently resides in the willingness of the private sector to help foot the bill.

“NTPC (the NWT Power Corp.), the GNWT, does not have that kind of funding,” said ENR Minister Michael Miltenberger. “We have some money, but by far the best avenue to advance this whole initiative is going to be us buying power.”

Though Miltenberger said no one has explicitly expressed interest yet, the Power Corp. is more than willing to bang out power purchase agreements with any company in any community if they have the resources.

“If somebody came to us and said they’re prepared to put in a solar array – 16 kW, 100 kW, whatever – we, the Power Corporation, would be very willing to sit down and work on a power purchase agreement,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is two things: we have money to do some things, but we don’t have money to do it all. But we are very interested in working with communities…Whoever has the resources and comes to talk to us, they get a pick at any community – they can go as far North as they want to.”

An extra 40 kW is being added to NTPC’s 60 kW solar panel installation in Fort Simpson – the largest array North of 60 – which is currently meeting seven per cent of the community’s average load and offers shared cost savings to customers across the territory by displacing 18,300 litres per year of diesel.

ENR also plans to pilot solar projects allowing for up to 75 per cent of the average community load in diesel communities to be powered by the sun. Though systems accounting for more than 20 per cent of the load are more complex, requiring expensive battery storage technology, the government plans to test and monitor two systems – one in the Tlicho and one in the Dehcho – in the next five years that will achieve at least three quarters of power needs through grid-connected solar energy.

Along with expansion of on-the-grid solar technologies throughout the territory, the strategy promotes off-grid solar applications at mining exploration camps, commercial fishing and hunting lodges, personal cabins and remote government outposts by offering capital grants and tax breaks through the Alternative Energy Technology Program.

The strategy also contains initiatives aimed at monitoring the effectiveness of solar power in the North. Action items include collecting performance data, developing a website to report production values and installing visible real-time output displays in public buildings with solar panels, which ensure the technology is working and provide concrete evidence to the public on greenhouse gas savings.

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