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Power corp. proposes electrical grid expansion
Company to examine technical feasibility, cost to unite Taltson and Snare electrical grids

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 15, 2013

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
An energy company is considering connecting two NWT hydroelectric systems through a transmission line west of Great Slave Lake.

NNSL photo/graphic

An idea from NT Energy might, if determined to be technically feasible, connect the NWT's two hydroelectric grids the Taltson and the Snare. - NNSL file photo

NT Energy, a sister company of Northwest Territories Power Corporation, is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to examine the concept, which could involve about a 1,000-kilometre transmission line and cost more than $400 million.

The proposed project would connect the Snare and the Taltson hydroelectric grids.

"We're basically looking at what the system would need to look like from a technical perspective," said Andrew Stewart, manager of business development with NT Energy. "What kind of economic and technical challenges would need to be addressed to have a line that ran from the Taltson region all the way up into the North Slave going through Yellowknife and picking up some communities along the way."

Stewart cautioned that the idea, which he described as a grid expansion, is in the very early stages and the RFP would look at what is possible. It is expected the RFP will be issued this week.

Stewart said it will ask experts in transmission design to look at system stability and planning issues based on a number of scenarios for how much power would be transmitted.

"They're going to come back and tell us, number one, how much that work would cost to do and, if that goes well, we're hoping by early next year we'll have a sense of what the technical system needs to look like," he said.

The possible project would create pure public infrastructure, Stewart said. "This is about public backbone infrastructure that will, over time, reduce rates for all ratepayers, attract new customers and grow the economy, but it's a public investment kind of model. It's not premised on hefty returns or a really strong business case from day one out the door that you're going to pay this thing back in 10 or 20 years."

Instead, he said the plan would bring huge benefits in terms of reliability and more efficient use of the resources, stabilize costs, and substitute water for diesel.

"The model we're contemplating needs significant public dollars from various levels of government in order to make it viable," he said.

Under the concept, Fort Providence and Kakisa would be in the vicinity of the potential route and could be connected to the transmission line, and even possibly Fort Simpson.

The line would travel to Yellowknife and on toward the diamond mines.

"Obviously if you're going to build major infrastructure like this, you're going to need to have customers to use it, and so existing and emerging mines are certainly of interest for making the model successful," Stewart said.

The NT Energy official said it is hard to put firm timelines on the process.

It is hoped that at least a draft report on the technical viability of the project will be done by the beginning of next year.

Stewart said, if the idea is not technically viable, then it would go no further. However, if it is judged to be viable, there will be a sense of the technical complexity that's required, and from there NWT Energy can start to think about cost, logistics and right of way.

Stewart said the idea is different than the proposal that was being considered until 2011 to expand the Taltson River hydro site and build a transmission line east of Great Slave Lake to the diamond mines.

"The objective for this project is to connect the two (hydro) systems together and then to go some distance out towards customers," he said, referring to the diamond mines and any other mines that might be developed. "But those customers are going to have to build towards the network in some fashion and build connecting assets or help pay for connecting assets to get them to the public infrastructure system."

Stewart said, in the long run, the NWT will need to think about connecting to the North American grid because that's the best way to have economies of scale and energy costs similar to the rest of Canada.

"That's part of the picture, but all of this stuff is pretty far out into the future."

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