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The linchpin of NWT’s climate change fight efforts looked weak to some MLAs at a technical briefing on March 12.

That project, the Taltson Dam expansion, is supposed to account for 44 per cent of NWT”s obligation to cut emissions by a third of its 2005 levels by 2030, as per Canada’s commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accords.

The expansion would be 64 kilometres north of Fort Smith on the Taltson River, and would almost triple the current hydro capacity of the NWT.

However, some MLAs were leery of the project’s prospects.

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler was one of them. She wanted to know how she could be sure her constituents would benefit. Even if the project went ahead, she said, “I know that line ain’t going to come all the way up there.”

Lesa Semmler speaks during a climate change briefing at the legislative assembly on Thursday morning.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

Other Beaufort Delta work, meanwhile, has stalled under GNWT’s climate plans. The $40 million wind project in Inuvik, green-lit in 2018, has been tangled up in delays, Semmler noted.

Facing high power costs, residents were also considering switching back to diesel from trucked-in gas, Semmler said.

John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister at department of infrastructure recognized the delays, but said it was now before the Gwich’in Land and Water Board and GNWT expects the project to go forward.

“We don’t have that type of spend (compared to the Taltson expansion) planned for the Beaufort Delta,” he said, continuing to say there were no projects that would achieve the same reductions of the dam.

The project would also connect to about 70 per cent of NWT’s population and resource development in the Great Slave Lake area, stabilizing costs, Andrew Stewart, director of energy for the Department of Infrastructure, added.

“We have a lot of eggs in one basket in forecasting Taltson to pick up on (reducing) our GHG emissions,” Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green said. “That project has not proven to be financially viable at the point.”

She wanted to know what the government would do if the expansion fumbled. Stewart, in response, said targeting industrial emissions like expansion would was key to the territory’s efforts.

“I say this with all due respect: I hope that’s keeping you up at night,” Green said, meaning incorporating industry into emissions control.

At the legislative assembly on the morning March 12, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green says she hopes concerns around the Taltson Dam expansion keeps officials up at night to appropriately plan.
Nick Pearce/NNSL

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly also raised concern. For him, the project would take an inevitable dive.

“I don’t think it’s a question of if, it’s a question of when. Look, there’s no money,” he said. “How many buyers do we have signed up? Zero.”

With no buyers, and no business case, he said, there had to be contingency plans now.  O’Reilly proposed alternatives like carbon offsets, and renewable diesel, in case the Taltson project didn’t go ahead.

O’Reilly also had issues with a proposed $21 million Whati transmission line connecting to the North Slave grid. Slated for 2022, the line would only connect one community, he said, adding that it coincidentally went past the Fortune Minerals’ Nico mine site.

“For the cost of this, I think we could get mini hydro in three Tlicho communities,” he said.

Stewart told him any mini hyrdo would be in the ballpark of $30 million, adding that the line goes past a potential hydro site, but not near the Fortune Minerals site. The line would mean a community off diesel, he said.

Whati, Fort Providence and Kakisa (the latter two are both to get a similar line by 2022 for $26 million) are the only communities that could be feasibly connected to the grid at this point, he said.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos was more positive on the Taltson expansion, saying the project would bolster the territory’s economy, and boost access to renewable energy.

Governments officials fielding questions from MLAs included John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister at department of infrastructure, Erin Kelly, deputy minister of environment and natural resources, and Nathan Richea, assistant deputy minister of environment and climate for environment and natural resources.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The project was the only way “to put us back on the may and start building our economy in a balanced way with the support of Indigenous groups, she said, in reference to possible Indigenous ownership.

Hanging over the discussion were residents’ high power bills, and increased expenses as the NWT faces the brunt of climate change.

From 1958 to 2018, the average temperature rose by 2.5 degrees in Hay River and 5 degrees in Inuvik, a GNWT slide from the presentation stated.

Those costs are just the beginning, according to Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who’s advocated declaring a climate emergency in assembly.

In the discussion, he underlined the urgency of the climate crisis and potential billions in infrastructure costs that come as result as permafrost slumps and other damages take their toll.

“It affects every single infrastructure, people’s foundation on their homes … even if we meet global targets,” Johnson said.

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Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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