Robert C. McLeod: Presentation to Environment and Sustainable Development Committee

Delivered on November 21, 2016

Thank Premier McLeod for the introduction. And thank you Committee members for the opportunity to meet with you today.

Madam Chair, the North’s unique ecosystem is critical to the health of the planet. The decisions we make about protecting biodiversity and ecological integrity serve not only the interests of NWT residents and other Canadians, but people around the globe.

Safeguarding the environment as we adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions is a key priority of the Government of the Northwest Territories. While we are very concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, we are also very motivated to reduce the use of fossil fuels, where practical to do so, because fuels such as diesel and gasoline are prohibitively expensive; and so for many years the GNWT has invested millions of dollars into energy projects with a focus on displacing imported fossil fuels. The Government of the Northwest Territories is second in Canada in installed solar photovoltaic capacity per capita and is a national leader in wood pellet use per capita. Hydropower is the single largest source of electricity in the Northwest Territories.

Although much advancement has been made by our government in recent years more still needs to be done. We have, therefore, identified a number of priority projects in the NWT that we believe can significantly contribute to national climate change objectives. I would like to take this opportunity to share with the Committee these broad priority areas in which we think we can develop productive and cooperative partnerships with the Government of Canada. The first of which is Phase 1 of the Taltson hydroelectricity expansion project.

The Taltson project is the expansion of the existing Taltson hydroelectric system in the South-East area of the Northwest Territories. The project includes a 60 megawatt expansion of the Taltson hydro site and the construction of a 200-kilometre transmission line to Saskatchewan. This project has the potential to reduce emissions in Saskatchewan by providing a green energy corridor to our southern neighbours.

In the context of the work stemming from the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the expansion of the Taltson hydro site would help reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 360,000 tonnes annually, conceivably a permanent reduction as this infrastructure is maintained over generations. In addition, the expansion would rely on existing water storage with no new flooding to generate on going revenue stream. And finally, by building on our long history of working with Indigenous governments, this project would be built in partnership with Indigenous governments, creating economic opportunities for Indigenous-owned businesses across the NWT.

Madam Chair, the benefits of this power project are significant. It is a project that can create economic opportunities both locally and nationally, support and provide benefit to the Indigenous peoples, and meet national objectives of transitioning to a clean growth economy. We believe the Taltson expansion is the project that can accomplish these many objectives.

Our second priority may be considered smaller in scale than the Taltson project I just spoke of but it carries no less importance to the GNWT and Northwest Territories residents.

Madam Chair, standalone diesel generation is the prime source of power for 25 of the Northwest Territories’ 33 communities. This situation is costly from both an economic and environmental perspective. The Government of the Northwest Territories has been advancing solutions to this issue for over a decade now and what we have today are the best, most innovative solutions for addressing diesel-generated power use in Canada’s remote North.

This infrastructure priority consists of three smaller scale renewable and alternative energy projects: the Inuvik Wind Project, High Penetration Solar, and the transmission line to Fort Providence.

The Inuvik Wind Project is the development of up to 4 megawatts of wind energy and a 10 km transmission line to the Town of Inuvik. It is estimated that the Inuvik Wind Project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4,300 tonnes per year and will eliminate the need for 1.3 million litres of diesel annually in the largest diesel community in the Northwest Territories.

It is a ground-breaking project which would be the first large scale wind project north of the Arctic Circle in Canada and an example of what could be used to transition many communities that rely on diesel generated power to low-carbon renewable power sources. As well, the knowledge and expertise acquired through this project could prove to be valuable to other circumpolar countries.

The second solution includes the installation of high penetration solar with batteries or efficient variable speed generators in 15 diesel-powered communities in the Northwest Territories. Batteries and variable generators are the only way to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions in remote communities, and can achieve diesel and emission reductions of 20 to 25% as opposed to the 2 to 4% from solar alone.

The notable aspect of this renewable energy solution is that the installation of high penetration solar with batteries has already been successfully demonstrated in two high Arctic communities - the communities of Colville Lake and Aklavik. Reproducing this success in 15 additional communities in the NWT would provide annual greenhouse gas reductions of 2,600 tonnes per year, improve energy security for these communities, and advance our national goal to reduce reliance on diesel power generation.

The third solution within this infrastructure priority is the construction of a transmission line to connect Fort Providence – one of the NWT’s larger diesel communities – to the Taltson hydroelectric system. Making use of existing highway corridors, this transmission line will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4,900 tonnes per year and permanently supply renewable power to the community. And by accessing existing hydropower, the project will provide a reliable renewable energy source without the intermittence of wind or solar.

Collectively these projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower the cost of living and demonstrate innovative solutions for off-grid diesel communities in Canada’s remote North. Reducing our dependency on diesel energy systems will shrink territorial emissions and will have real and positive impacts on the high cost of living and the territorial economy.

Our challenge in the NWT is to provide reliable, affordable and environmentally-friendly energy options for our communities. This leads us to an issue that is on minds of many Canadians right now – carbon pricing.

Madam Chair, the NWT already has high prices. The GNWT wants to ensure that the introduction of carbon pricing will not add to the already very high cost of living for our residents and will not create an additional barrier to economic development and add to the high operating costs businesses already face.

A key issue is that the carbon tax will increase the cost of living without a measureable reduction in fossil fuel consumption. Further, the NWT does not operate in a closed economic system, and instead relies heavily on imports from southern Canada. Carbon pricing, levied by other provinces, is already embedded in these imports (both in product prices and transport costs). The implications of a NWT carbon tax plus the indirect carbon taxes paid for imported goods means the NWT tax payer is paying a disproportionate carbon price compared to provinces.

Madam Chair, the NWT contributes less than 0.21 percent to Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.  High costs coupled with acutely experiencing the impacts of climate change has contributed to the NWT becoming a leader in both mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Adaptation is of the utmost importance as the NWT has been experiencing the impacts of climate change for decades. In Inuvik, the annual average temperature has already warmed by 4 degrees Celsius since the 1950s. In the southern part of the territories, we are already experiencing annual temperature increases of 2 degrees Celsius. Climate change is resulting in coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, landslides, increased snow loads to buildings and drought. The changes we are experiencing are not limited to just these examples and are impacting our environment and way of life.

The transportation of people and goods is being disrupted by these impacts. Permafrost degradation contributes to uneven road and runway surfaces, which compromise driver safety. Shorter winter road and marine operating seasons as a result of warmer temperatures result in incomplete or more costly community resupply. Adaptation research and infrastructure upgrades remain key to being able to better cope with climate impacts.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has made it a priority to secure funding for new transportation corridors that will replace existing winter roads with all-weather highways. The three priority projects, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Tlicho all-season road, and Slave Geological Province Access Corridor, will increase the resiliency of the NWT transportation system and contribute to safer and more reliable connections in the face of climate change.

Our government also continues to take a leadership role in advancing research and development that identifies best practices for constructing roads in harsh climates. The GNWT actively participates in Transport Canada’s Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative, where we are getting closer to being able to better address issues with constructing on permafrost and safely navigating Arctic waters. The NWT has become a key jurisdiction for testing innovative construction techniques, as evidenced by two test sections currently being monitored by the GNWT along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway to evaluate innovative stream crossing and deep fill embankment techniques respectively.

The GNWT is focusing our efforts on several important resilience and adaptation concerns including ecosystem management; resilient infrastructure such as roads and buildings; health and safety; and culture and heritage for our Indigenous people.

 The GNWT is currently engaging with Indigenous governments and stakeholders toward developing a comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Framework that will provide the road map for our efforts moving forward.  We believe there are significant opportunities for our governments to continue to work together on climate change, with a particular focus on adaptation, as the NWT continues to take action toward ensuring our communities are healthy and resilient in the face of serious climate change impacts.