Who has energy answers?

Who has energy answers?

The Energy charrette that gathered to discuss the NWT’s energy future in Yellowknife two weeks ago was, unfortunately, a waste of money.

Small communities must replace diesel generating plants with alternatives – wind, solar, biomass and hydro. Everyone knows that. But how? We must also consolidate hydro resources so they are more effectively targeted. How can that be achieved?

The solution is certainly not to ask ordinary people to come up with the answers.

The plans have to come from the top, within government and the NT Power Corp. That is where the experts are. They are supposed to come up with inspired solutions and practical plans to bring before the public for consideration. That part is missing.

The last energy consultation exercise in the NWT, when the public was asked to solve the problems, was in 2010. A very expensive panel of experts visited communities asking for input on how electrical rates should be re-configured. In a Journal editorial at the time we asked, “Why do experts come to ordinary people asking for advice? They should at least formulate some options with explanations so there is something to consider. Why do we even have all these expensive professionals if they have to ask the public to do their job?”

And now with the “charette,” the same thing has happened again.

The NT Power Corp. board and chair, with support staff, cost a small fortune to sustain. Then there is the brain trust within the Power Corp. administration, the ones who feel they deserve performance bonuses. One would think that from among all those brains, some plans for future energy would be forthcoming – not by hiring consultants, but by actually doing the work themselves. That is their job.

Several government departments also have staff dedicated to the task – again, highly paid professionals, supposedly experts. How is it there can be an energy conference and none of those agencies have anything to show?

The only current energy plan for the NWT is the “Hydro Strategy.” Over a decade old and apparently the hope for the territory’s economic future, it suggests damming a number of rivers, including the Mackenzie, in order to generate 5,000 MW of power for export. The energy needs of the communities are not considered. This from a government that has no capital to build schools and hospitals, much less power dams worth $10 billion each. There are no transmission lines to get power to market, not to mention no known market to export to. That “strategy” is a dinosaur and a distraction.

The NWT department of Environment and Natural Resources seems to be the exception. Innovative thinking is apparent as they promote experimentation with different types of alternative energy solutions. We live in the boreal forest, one of the greatest biomass sources on the planet; our summers are hot and sunny, and mass-production of solar panels is rapidly making solar energy more competitive; and the wind turbines at Diavik have shown the treeless tundra offers limitless wind energy at competitive prices. Taking advantage of those factors, in concert, makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, please read the NT Power Corp.’s report outlining its energy planning in support of its application for a general rate increase: (http://www.ntpc.com/RegulatoryAffairs/Documents/NTPC%20Alternative%20Energy%20Filing%20-%20December%202009.PDF). Never has a document been so uninspired and so bereft of creative thinking. Even the switch-over to power-miser LED street lights in communities is being fumbled. Do they really want consumption decreased? Of course they don’t.

The wasted 10 MW of power at the Taltson Dam – for over 30 years now – is a travesty. Stuck in a time warp waiting for a mine to come along while the connected communities are forced to use expensive oil, the power is unused. Unbelievable.

That surplus power offers a commonsense solution to the territory’s energy needs. Reduce the cost of power in the South Slave by five cents per kWh and sell it into the four connected communities so they get off oil. The revenue from selling that power will finance a grid connection via the Deh Cho Bridge to the Snare hydro system. That will give Yellowknife redundancy so they no longer need the costly Jackfish diesel plant (saving the territory a $50 million needed renovation). Yellowknife, with all those houses and offices, will be a huge market for hydro power.

That demand will justify the planned expansion of the Taltson hydro plant. A power surplus will be created that can be sold to future mines.

The mindset has to change from having mines as the primary hydro customer and the communities as serendipitous benefactors, to recognizing communities as the long-term consumer with planned surpluses available to sell to future mines. Mines come and go; the communities don’t. Energy planning needs common sense and business sense.

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