Wally Schumann: Presentation to Industry, Science and Technology Committee

November 24, 2016
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Delivered on November 23, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am very pleased to be here this afternoon to provide the Committee with some perspectives from the Government of the Northwest Territories on areas where we believe the Northwest Territories can make significant contributions to the overall national objectives related to green energy, support for economic growth and development, and the knowledge based economy.

I would like to begin by speaking about some opportunities in the Northwest Territories that we believe will provide benefits for the residents of the Northwest Territories and for Canada. Specifically, I would like to share with the Committee the Government of the Northwest Territories’ areas of priority where we think we can develop productive and cooperative partnerships with the Government of Canada.

The first priority is Phase 1 of the Taltson hydroelectricity expansion project. This project would see the expansion of the existing Taltson hydroelectric system in the southeast 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 is a potential game changer for the NWT and for Canada in increasing the availability of clean, renewable power. By connecting NWT hyrdo – currently stranded – to the national energy grid through Saskatchewan, we could help reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 360,000 tonnes annually over several decades, given  the expected life of the facility. That is a big step towards achieving national climate change priorities and living up to the terms of the Vancouver Declaration.

The expansion would rely on existing water storage with no new flooding to generate on going revenues. And as a territory where Aboriginal partnerships are part of  our daily reality, this project would be built in partnership with Aboriginal governments, creating economic opportunities for them and Aboriginal-owned businesses across the NWT.

Mr. 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 Aboriginal people, 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 is focused on innovative renewable energy solutions for remote Northern communities that currently rely on expensive, carbon-intensive diesel for power.

Mr. Chair, standalone diesel generation is the only 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.

Like many of our priorities, this one involves several approaches designed to respond to the unique demands of our many communities and includes a wind energy project in Inuvik, high penetration solar projects in 15 off-grid communities and a hydro transmission line to Fort Providence.

The Inuvik Wind Project includes the development of up to 4 megawatts of wind energy and a 10 kilometre transmission line to the Town of Inuvik. We estimate that this 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 GHG emission reductions of 20 to 25% as opposed to the 2 to 4% from solar alone.

We have already demonstrated the success of this approach with the installation of high penetration solar with batteries 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 our 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. The Government of the Northwest Territories continues to demonstrate our commitment to the development of renewable energy technologies and will continue to adopt and advance these technologies now and in future years.

The final priority area I’d like to talk about is the construction of all-weather road infrastructure for adapting to climate change impacts. As the Premier indicated at the beginning of our presentation, inadequate transportation links are a challenge for NWT communities. Currently, only 33 percent of the land area of the NWT is within 100 kilometres of all-weather road, and only 12 of our 33 communities have uninterrupted access via the all-weather highway system. Climate change is greatly affecting the reliability of these winter roads, particularly at vulnerable ice crossings. New road corridor projects such as the Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Province Access Corridor will mitigate impacts of climate change, connect our communities to each other and the rest of Canada, and increase the safety, reliability, and resiliency of the transportation system. At the same time, these new links would also enable new trade opportunities and economic prosperity.

The final report of the Canada Transportation Act (CTA) Review Panel recommended federal investment in northern transportation corridors, including the Mackenzie Valley Highway Corridor and Slave Geological Province Access. During the federal government’s engagement on the findings of the report, the GNWT and other NWT stakeholders indicated their strong support for the federal government’s timely implementation of these recommendations, which would have a long lasting impact on the North.

The Mackenzie Valley Highway Corridor will connect several NWT communities to the public highway system and provide reliable access to a wealth of petroleum and mineral resources. Substantial planning work has already been completed. Priority components of this project include construction of the Bear River Bridge, engineering and environmental studies for the remaining Wrigley to Norman Wells phases, and construction of the Tulita to Norman Wells segment, including completion of environmental assessment activities.

The Slave Geological Province is the site of the NWT’s existing diamond mines and still contains a wealth of untapped mineral potential. However, climate change has resulted in shortened operating seasons for the existing winter road serving the region and this has resulted in significant transportation costs and operational difficulties for mining developments. An all-weather corridor into the region would eliminate these difficulties, lowering the costs of exploration and development for industry, and supporting the NWT in reaching its full economic potential. Construction of the portion of the proposed corridor that is below the tree line is the highest priority, where the seasonal ice crossings on various lakes are increasingly vulnerable due to the impacts of climate change, resulting in increased costs and shorter seasons for operation of the winter road.

Mr. Chair, these priority areas build on innovative work that the Government of the Northwest Territories has already been doing, and I would like to take a moment to highlight a few areas that should be of interest to the Committee.

First, we are very pleased that this winter will see the completion of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link. This fibre optic line will cover more than 1,100 kilometres and will bring state of the art, high speed fibre optic communication to small remote communities along the Mackenzie Valley. This will support economic development and diversification opportunities for our residents and give the GNWT innovative new ways to deliver programs and services like health and education services to smaller communities.

In addition to these benefits, the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link will provide a high speed connection to the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, supporting near real time transfer of Canadian and international satellite data. For those that are unaware, the recently commissioned satellite ground station at Inuvik has the potential to become the largest receiving station in the world for a rapidly growing number of polar orbiting remote sensing satellites. The data received from these satellites is used for environmental monitoring, northern science, sustainable resource development, climate change, security and surveillance, particularly for Canada’s vast Arctic regions. Real-time delivery of this data over the high speed fibre link will significantly increase the capabilities of the government and private sector users of it.

Natural Resources Canada, the Swedish Space Agency, the German Space Agency, the Norwegian Space Agency and private companies already have dishes at the Inuvik Satellite Station. We expect over the next twenty years the number of satellite dishes at Inuvik could increase to about twenty-five.

I am sure you would share our vision of Inuvik becoming a hub for research and the potential that the satellite station has, along with the fibre link project, to provide a variety of economic opportunities in the North.

Mr. Chair as has been noted, the Northwest Territories has a particular interest in renewable energy. While we are 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 GNWT has invested millions of dollars into energy projects with a focus on displacing imported fossil fuels.

The GNWT has led efforts to reduce emissions through energy efficiency, and by using low carbon heating sources such as wood pellets. This extends to our own assets, and by 2017-18, nearly 20% of GNWT heating for facilities like offices, schools and health centers will be provided through the use of biomass.

Overall, our electricity system is powered mainly by hydroelectricity. In an average year over 75% of community electricity is produced using renewable hydroelectricity. The Northwest Territories is second in Canada in installed solar PV capacity per capita. In a territory that is dark for significant parts of the year, this speaks to our openness to innovation.

Speaking of innovation, I would be remiss if I did not note the work on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. This highway is 138 kilometres long and is a testament to the partnerships between the federal and territorial governments and to the need to use leading edge science and innovation to complete these types of projects.

In order to complete the highway construction and protect the permafrost along the highway alignment, typical ‘cut and fill’ techniques that are normally used in southern areas of the Northwest Territories and elsewhere could not be used for this project. These traditional construction methods cut into protective layers of surface vegetation and organics, with the possible results of a thawing in the permafrost below.

To protect the permafrost our design used only fills. Geotextile fabric was placed between the existing ground and the construction materials along the entire highway. The bulk of construction activities also took place during the winter months to preserve the permafrost.  Also important is that the completion of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway will enable the extension of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link to Tuktoyaktuk.

Mr. Chair, self-reliance has made Northerners innovative people and the Government of the Northwest Territories is eager to share the benefits of our innovation with Canada and the world. With the partnership of the Government of Canada, we think that we can capitalize on the innovative work that we have already done to adapt to climate change, reduce the cost of living and  transition to renewable energy sources to create increased benefits for the people of the Northwest Territories and help achieve national objectives.

We look forward to working with our federal partners to continue to make progress and to achieve our shared objectives.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.