Editorial: Power, politics, pollution

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It will come as no surprise to residents of the NWT that we pay the most for electricity in Canada.

This point was driven home this month with the release of a report from Energy Hub. That study showed NWT residents pay about $387 per month, assuming an average monthly usage of 1,000 kWh. That compares to $167 a month in Alberta and $73 in hydro-dam rich Quebec — the latter being the cheapest in Canada.

Our Time organizer Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen spoke at a demonstration in front of the CBC building in Yellowknife last July. Gagnon-van Leeuwen is one of the founders of the Yellowknife chapter of Our Time, a national campaign led by young people who want Canada to implement a Green New Deal. NNSL file photo

Energy Hub founder Rylan Urban — a Toronto-based university student paid to bring together homeowners and solar panel installers — said costs could be alleviated through reduced usage and a home energy retrofit, including new light bulbs and improved insulation.

While there are a host of rebate programs for homeowners, businesses and non-profits through the Arctic Energy Alliance, the cost of power isn’t going to drop in the North any time soon.

And neither is the amount of carbon we spew into the atmosphere, even with the new carbon tax scheme. All it will do is increase the financial burden for business and raise the cost of living for many residents as increased transportation costs are passed on to the consumer.

The problem is practically every small community in the North gets its power from diesel — the dirtiest, most expensive way to generate power. But what are the alternatives? Even the Energy Hub’s own materials show the NWT isn’t in the best spot for wind turbines and as for solar, well that would work great during the summer midnight sun. But not so well during our very long, dark winters.

Geothermal? Well, many NWT communities are in the Canadian Shield, which has a low or low-medium geothermal potential.

While climate change is a reality — with the results of new weather patterns easily seen in the North — the only practical way for the NWT to join the fight is for us to kick our diesel addiction. And that comes with a huge cost that could never be borne by ratepayers and the territorial government alone.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a completely unrealistic promise last fall while in Nunavut during the federal election campaign to fight climate change and eliminate diesel from all indigenous communities by 2030. That’s in 10 years. Exactly how does he plan to do that?

In the NWT several communities could be removed from diesel power generation by expanding the territory’s hydro capacity by connecting the Snare grid in the North Slave and Taltson in the South Slave. That could eliminate an estimated 240,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. But it will cost up to $2 billion, maybe more.
And that’s the problem with much of the green rhetoric today. The intentions are good but many of the proposals are pure fantasy.

Take the Green New Deal for Canada, for instance, the one endorsed by NWT MP Michael McLeod – the only federal Liberal to do so. It talks about creating a million “good” green jobs but where are they and how?

Good, green jobs would include construction of a grid connecting the Snare and Taltson hydro plants. The feds have contributed $1.2 million toward studying the proposal but can backbencher McLeod squeeze a couple of billion dollars more out of Trudeau and his mostly southern, urban Canadian caucus for the only real solution for cheaper power and lower pollution in his riding? If he can, he certainly deserves his seat in the House of Commons.
But we’re not holding our breath.

All this shadow-dancing about going green and fighting climate change ignores the economic realities of the North — unaffordable energy with unaffordable solutions where there is zero political clout.

The North needs affordable energy and it wants cleaner energy too. To get there it will need the support of all Canadians, including those fighting for a greener energy future.

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