EDITORIAL: Hydro merger or bust

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If we may be so bold, Yellowknifer will suggest there is no greater project worth pursuing than expanding the territory’s hydro power capacity.

Yes, the city needs a new pool. Yes, the city needs a university and research centre. Yes, there needs to be renewed focus on the mining industry, and continued growth in the city’s tourism sector.

But all of these needs will hinge on the NWT’s ability to provide cheaper power to its residents and businesses, already enduring by far some of the most crushingly expensive power rates in the country. To do that the territory must merge it Taltson and Snare hydroelectric systems, preferably with a spur hydro line to the diamond mines and another to northern Alberta so we can sell our excess power there.

This newspaper has been very critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, starting with his high-handed move to ban Arctic drilling without consulting Northerners and his insistence that the GNWT impose a carbon tax on the territory where the cost of living is already extremely high.

But if the Liberals make good on making hydro expansion a “very big priority,” as Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said last week while announcing $1.2 million in preliminary funding, they will have hit the ball out of the park as far the Northwest Territories is concerned.

MP Michael McLeod can’t make a bigger case for re-election this fall than his government’s support for increasing the territory’s hydro capacity. It’s that important.

As Jay Grewal, president of the NWT Power Corporation (NTPC), pointed out during a city meeting earlier this month, average hydro rates have skyrocketed by 31 percent over the past five years, making energy costs uncompetitive and unattractive to both residents and outside investors.

Grewal might as well have been speaking for every Northerner interested in building a future life here. She added, without the Taltson expansion, power corp. will face $25 million in annual losses by 2040.

“All roads lead back to Taltson,” said Grewal. “If we do not get the Taltson expansion, our reality will be a difficult one for all of us.”

The GNWT, as power corp.’s sole shareholder, has no choice but to pursue the merger. Either residents and businesses continue to cover endless and unsustainable rate hikes or the government goes broke trying to subsidize the costs.

Merging the two hydro systems will not be cheap. The final price tag will certainly come in at well over $1 billion. That’s why we need the feds solidly on board and shouldering the costs.

But if the Liberals are serious about fighting climate change what better way than eliminating the need for diesel power for communities and industry? It certainly beats a carbon tax that will inevitably hurt poor people in remote communities the most.

We can only hope the Liberals are as serious about hydro expansion as LeBlanc suggests. If not, now is the time for the other political parties hoping to claim the NWT’s sole seat in this fall’s federal election to show what they’re willing to deliver.

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