(March 13, 2013) - Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today, to inform Members on the work the Northwest Territories Power Corporation is doing to provide a safe and reliable source of electricity at the lowest cost, while pursuing opportunities to increase the mix of clean, renewable energy sources.
NTPC has been working to control its costs in order to lessen the impact on electricity rates for Northwest Territories residents and businesses. A renewed sense of focus at NTPC has led to new levels of cost control and efficiency gains. The Corporation has implemented a strategic plan that focuses on areas which matter most to customers: service reliability, the price of electricity and meeting external commitments.
Mr. Speaker, results to date are encouraging, but there is still more work to do to ensure to ensure NTPC continues to provide best value to ratepayers.
The Corporation remains at the forefront in supporting and implementing this government’s strategies to move the territory’s energy supply away from fossil fuels as much as possible and on to renewable energy sources that are both cleaner and less subject to price fluctuations.
In that regard, Mr. Speaker, NTPC, with funding from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, recently expanded what was already the North’s largest solar energy project in Fort Simpson. The project added over 40 Kilowatts to the existing 60 kilowatt generating capacity of the site.
All told the site is now able to convert sunlight into enough electricity to supply 17 houses in the community, at peak. The project will displace approximately 100,000 kilowatt hours of diesel generation and remove 76.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air.
As part of upgrades to Colville Lake’s power system over the next two years, the Corporation is investigating using smart grid technology that consists of a 50 kilowatt solar system and a battery arrangement which can supply the community’s full needs.
NTPC, in partnership with the Community Government of Gamètì, recently completed a pilot project to convert the community’s 31 100 watt High Pressure Sodium streetlights into 50 watt high efficiency LED streetlights. Information gained as part of that project will guide plans to roll out this greener technology across the territory. While NTPC will be assessing the performance of the new lights for some time, initial feedback has been very positive from residents who like the new lights.
There are areas within the NWT that offer significant potential to harness wind power to produce electricity. NT Energy has received $100,000 from ENR to conduct a pilot project in a community along the Arctic coast and is in the process of confirming where the project will be located. Lessons learned from a previous wind project in Tuktoyaktuk will be applied to this new project.
Northerners care about the environment and many have already taken steps on their own to replace fossil fuel sources with greener energy solutions for generating electricity. We encourage those self-generation initiatives and want to ensure there are policies and processes in place that support that goal.
With that view in mind NTPC is conducting a policy review to consider the option to replace net billing with a net metering program. Under net billing, a customer who qualified for the program received a credit on their bill for self-generated power put back into the grid. The rate paid is equal to the cost of the diesel displaced and other variable costs. Under net metering, that customer would receive the higher retail rate instead.
Doing away with the standby charge that currently applies to customers who generate more than five kilowatts of solar or wind power and feed power back into the grid is another incentive we will undertake.
Mr. Speaker, this government recognizes the need to quickly press forward with other initiatives that will support that goal of reducing costs and reliance on diesel. Nowhere is that more critically important than in Inuvik. NTPC has signed agreements to secure a supply of Liquefied Natural Gas that will address the community’s power requirements in the short term, while leaving the door open for local suppliers to develop solutions for the longer term. The Corporation is working toward an initial goal of having a partial supply of LNG in place as early as this fall and ramping up its supply of that less costly fuel next year as additional LNG sources are scheduled to come online.
Such a positive development will also mean that NTPC will avoid approximately $2 million in capital costs to convert its gas engines to diesel in response to the town’s decreasing gas supply and displace a significant amount of diesel it would have otherwise burned.
Furthermore, success in securing a supply of LNG for Inuvik’s short-term requirements could also prove to be a viable option to replace diesel and reduce power costs in other thermal communities across the territory. NTPC is actively pursuing that option.
LNG can also be used as a heating fuel. With that option in mind, NTPC is working with the Town of Inuvik and the Inuvik Joint Venture to see if it is feasible to use LNG for this purpose in that community.
Mr. Speaker, one of the inherent weaknesses in our power system is that, unlike southern Canada, it is an isolated system without an integrated transmission grid. As a result, our ability to fully exploit our existing and future hydro potential and other economies of scale is limited. In that regard, NTPC is actively pursuing opportunities to expand transmission capabilities within the NWT that would stabilize rates and foster economic development.
What we envision is a transmission grid along the west side of Great Slave Lake that would connect the Taltson hydro system in the South Slave to the Snare system in the North Slave region. The grid would also extend northeast from Yellowknife, promoting economic development by providing a means for existing and future mines in that area to connect to hydro. We also envision being able to connect the grid to communities such as Kakisa, Fort Providence and Whatì.
Such a grid would change our power system and become an instrument for economic development by stabilizing rates, increasing reliability and extending cleaner hydro supply to more and new areas.
At the same time, NTPC is attending to matters at hand that affect our existing power system. Mr. Speaker, the Corporation is making measureable progress to implement a comprehensive reliability improvement plan for its Snare hydro system that provides power for Yellowknife, Dettah and Behchokö. The initiatives the Corporation has put in place seem to be having the desired effect, judging by the number of outages in recent months.
However, as much as the signs are promising to this point, it is too soon to declare success. I will continue to monitor this issue to ensure that that the Corporation meets its commitment to reduce outages on that system by 70 per cent over three years.
NTPC must also overcome other important challenges. It, like many northern organizations, continues to face a critical demand for skilled labour. To meet that challenge, the Corporation has developed and implemented a strategy to refocus recruitment and retention efforts on Northern hires through initiatives such as a scholarship program, apprenticeship program, a careers website and increased presence at career fairs. These efforts are showing results, but it is a challenge competing with growth regions such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. Two of four apprenticeships available in 2012-13 have already been filled and four more apprenticeships will be available in 2013-14. NTPC remains committed to the apprenticeship program, and will seek two more apprentices in 2014-15 and ongoing.
Mr. Speaker, NTPC has much work ahead in the years to come to ensure that Northerners receive an environmentally friendly, secure and reliable source of electricity at the lowest cost possible. It is worth noting that this year the Corporation has been serving Northerners for 25 years. In 1988, the GNWT acquired the Northern Canada Power Commission from the federal government and established it as a territorial Crown Corporation. Coincidentally, this year also marks 65 years since the original Northwest Territories Power Commission was set up.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to continuing to update this House on the progress and the contribution that NTPC is making to the energy future of this territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.