The NWT is in distress in many ways, as the continued increases to the already high cost of living, including energy, are fast becoming a crushing, unsupportable burden for all residents and the GNWT itself. Continuing to spend more and more money the same way, trying to solve the problems that are only getting worse, shows a lack of vision and clarity that does a disservice to the NWT. The GNWT needs to redesign Northwest Territories Power Corporation to become a more efficient public utility.

The federal government initially set up the Northern Canada Power Commission in 1948. We bought the NWT portion of that in 1988 and moved the headquarters north as originally designed. Much of that design still exists today. NTPC is not as effective, efficient or economical as a public utility in the 21st century needs to be. Nimbleness, clear strategic thinking and planning looking forward as opposed to trying to hang on to the past are what is required.

Here are some examples of why the status quo is not working and why a thorough review and rebuild of NTPC by northerners is required:

1. In the years before 1988 it was determined that Yellowknife and Hay River were the only communities where money could be made selling power, so ATCO/Northlands took over distribution. All the other communities in the NWT were left to NTPC. For decades now, millions of northern dollars have flowed south into ATCO’s corporate coffers in Calgary. This situation currently exists in Yellowknife. In 2014, Hay River voted not to renew the Northlands franchise, a decision Northlands has tried for years to overturn because it is such a lucrative revenue stream.

2. Headquarters costs, as outlined in the 2018 General Rate Application, are approximately $33 million/per year. This works out to a per capita share for Fort Smith of $1,400, while the per capita costs for other communities range from $550 for Yellowknife to $1,070 for thermal communities. The headquarters costs are too high (like the rest of the GNWT) and the per capita distribution of these is inconsistent and unfair.

3. NTPC does the barest minimum when it comes to investing in renewables other than hydro. Fort Chipewyan has installed over two megawatts of solar energy infrastructure, while all of NWT saw an embarrassingly meagre 0.5 MW of solar installed, according to the GNWT energy report.

4. NTPC inflates the costs of renewable projects to make them look too expensive, for example, the cost of the three Diavik wind turbines out in the middle of the barren lands was $29 million for 9.2 MW while the 1 Inuvik 3.5 MW turbine has been costed at $70 million so far and the turbine is not even up yet.

5. The proposed Fort Providence hydro line will cost upward of $60 million or more for the modest demand in Providence of four million kWh. At NTPC’s rate of return on investment of eight per cent that would mean that this plan would require in excess of six million dollars per year payback, makes no fiscal sense at all. A far better solution is a four-megawatt solar array including batteries for $12 million, which the community could own.

6. NTPC has no plan that makes any sense to meet the greenhouse gas emission reductions for our communities.

7. The Pine Point shutdown in 1986 freed up nine MW of hydro. To this day NTPC has failed to create a good electric heating sales plan for that surplus power, which could have generated over $100 million in that time, instead it poured all that potential revenue over the Taltson dam.

8. Despite the multi-billion dollar cost overruns and delays of Muskrat Fall and Site C, NTPC and the GNWT continues to mortgage our energy future on the billion-dollar-plus Taltson expansion. We cannot afford this plan and it does nothing for the diesel-dependent communities up and down the Valley.

The 19th Assembly is in pre-election mode and will not be taking on any new initiatives, though this issue can be flagged as a priority for the incoming 20th Assembly. All those running for election can push for a northern rebuild of NTPC to help tackle the crushingly high cost of living in the NWT as they campaign for our votes. The final point, any redesign of NTPC should be done in the north, by northerners for northerners.

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  1. There are some very simple things that can be done on a community by community basis, as communities are ready.

    – Electrical ENERGY PRODUCTION needs to include HEAT capture. This would take efficiency from 18% to 83%.

    Put another way, for every dollar spent on fuel we currently get about 18 cents worth of power and we throw away 65 cents worth of heat. If we capture the heat our efficiency goes up to 83%!

    – the free heat can be used to heat housing and produce food in a greenhouse. In spring, summer & fall it can also be used to heat the community pool (normally $10k-$15k/month in fuel).

    – ENERGY STORAGE is now capable of a 30 year life span which means adding solar & wind reduces fuel consumption in diesel powered communities and provides Peak Shaving.

    These things are not rocket science but it does require a willingness to think a bit bigger. Outside the box.

    In 2020 SSi Canada proposed to design, build, finance & guarantee power production from a NEW community owned power plant, with district heating & greenhouse …. We proposed to work with the existing franchise, where the community produced & sold the power to the franchise who in turn sold it to the community.

    We even guaranteed to keep the cost of production NO MORE than what the franchise was reporting to the PUB so rates would not increase.

    Unfortunately, the franchise didn’t want to lose out on power production – regardless of the benefit to the community. Apparently “cost” was too lucrative.

    Worse, the Mayor & council didn’t stand up for the community. As soon as the franchise complained the mayor folded and sent a “cease & desist” letter.

    If we want change, let’s start with the local leadership.

  2. Thanks for a well-thought out & well-researched continuation of a needed discussion. The higher income, larger population centres have more advantages in developing options as costs & climate change impact our power. The resources of the smaller communities need to be examined, in consultation with the communities, to determine what resource best meets local culture & needs. Every community has resources, ranging from wind to solar, geothermal to small scale hydro. Present Power Corp policies & practices do not support this needed transition. It’s the fundamental outlook of the Power Corp that needs to change.

  3. I think waiting to see how others are able to use these unreliable energy sources that need replacement often a huge expense and so far the scrape from these sources of energy are not recyclable. so are piling up huge. Also the very expensive lithium batteries need replacement, but the huge ones like all batteries remain poisonous and give off gases and need bigger and bigger storage areas where you need breathers to go into. These are problems that need to be worked out before spending the billions to have too many of them as Ontario did and they are short lived 20 to 30 years then need replacement at present and oil and gas is still needed as well to make and run them, also many tons of cement are left in the ground. They are no longer made in Canada so Asian made that is who you will be indebted to. Ontario is still in billions of dollars of debt for under 15% (when they can work) of not reliable power they say averaged out it is about 3%? Wind turbines if the wind blows to hard they must be locked down or not enough wind they do not produce or for solar panels no sun no electricity produced and you need a lot of panels to produce very much power and only on sunny days?
    Yes Northerners must decide for themselves how much they want to pay for this and have ready a place for the scrap to be piled up safely first but there must be something that works longer/better and isn’t unreliable and much cleaner.

  4. I agree that northlands needs to go but these problems were going on when Miltenberger was a minister and he had a chance to deal with the issues then and never did . also he made sure that fort smith his riding had the lowest power rates in the nwt per kwh with the major population of yellowknife supporting the power corp