The hot and dry conditions that decimated our forests in the Northwest Territories this summer are going to continue to make their presence felt this winter. The worst drought in living memory has played havoc with available water supplies on the Snare hydro system. The drought may well go on for a number of years. The NWT Power Corp. (NTPC) recently applied for an additional $20 million to cover the cost of running the Jackfish Diesel Plant to provide electricity to Yellowknife to replace the shortage of water.
That application was recently cancelled. The GNWT has decided to subsidise the cost, but the money has to come from somewhere. Simply paying more for the next two years is not a long term solution to this problem.
What can we do instead?
We need to return to the basics. The simplest way to reduce energy costs is to use less. We need a massive effort to conserve electricity, shut off unnecessary lights, reduce the time we plug in vehicles, turn off electronic equipment, hang up our laundry and shorten our daily showers. Let’s do the things that have been talked about, but not practiced nearly enough. Our children need to get the message in school. Conservation can be a pathway to a more prosperous lifestyle for future Northerners.
At the same time, the GNWT can invest even more in our use of energy efficient products. Every incandescent bulb, every sodium vapour building light, every streetlight in every community in the NWT should be replaced with Light Emitting Diode (LED) products. This is the future, and we need to go there as fast as possible.
Perhaps the GNWT can buy these products in bulk, and distribute them for free? If they are paying for the extra fuel, this would be sensible.
The existing efficiency programs through the Arctic Energy Alliance should be expanded, with a goal of not one inefficient household appliance left running in the NWT. The economics of all these actions are far better for our collective future than simply spending on subsidies for fossil fuels.
Our goal should be to implement the most efficient use of electricity in North America. Let us not be distracted by NTPC losing revenue over the short term. With smart efficiency programs here we can save between 35 and 50 cents per kWh on all reductions in diesel fuel use alone. Collectively, that can pay for almost any efficiency measure put in place.
Doubters say, “If I save power then NTPC or Northlands Utilities Ltd. will simply raise the rates because I am using less and they will be losing money,” but it has to be remembered that less power generation by diesel means less operating expenses and those are significant potential savings for the companies. It is the responsibility of the utility companies to demonstrate saving to their customers. To the GNWT, the loss of growth in our population due to the high cost of living makes a huge difference to our federal equalization payments that have a per capita component. Everyone has a stake in this problem.
Once conservation and efficiency measures have been fully implemented, the other step is to seriously change our power system from diesel to renewable energy. In all of these changes, we have to make sure that the consumer wins.
Dennis Bevington, MP, Northwest Territories