Any savings from cheap oil should go to green energy: Nunavut MLA

“I will take your suggestions into serious consideration” — Keith Peterson


George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk, is calling on the Government of Nunavut to use any money saved from low fuel prices this year to invest in alternative energy projects. (FILE PHOTO)

George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk, is calling on the Government of Nunavut to use any money saved from low fuel prices this year to invest in alternative energy projects. (FILE PHOTO)

The Government of Nunavut must do more to find alternatives to diesel-fueled power generation, and now is the time to get started, says Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes.

Low oil prices offer a rare chance for the government to gain a surplus in its annual budget for fuel, and an opportunity to use those gains to invest in alternative energy, Hickes said in the legislative assembly, March 13.

“Right now, the cost of oil is low. Traditionally, it’s always increased,” Hickes later told Nunatsiaq News.

So far this year, oil prices have hovered around $50 a barrel or less.

“We’ve got an opportunity to take advantage of some of those savings in a way that’s going to help us build some infrastructure for future savings, when and if the fuel prices do increase.”

The MLA told Finance Minister Keith Peterson that the government should use those savings to start “exploring some alternative energy solutions.”

He recommended Nunavut start with small-scale investments in alternative energy pilot projects — geared to help diminish the territory’s reliance on fossil fuels for power generation.

“If we take a look at just using solar panels, or small scale wind [turbines] as an example — on some of the hospitals, some of our schools and some of our health centres, and other government infrastructure,” Hickes told Peterson.

The finance minister clarified that the GN doesn’t purchase all of the territory’s fuel for upcoming fiscal year and said he has “no idea what the final savings will be, if any,” as a result of low oil prices.

“The way the global crisis is going, fuel later this year may be back up to $100 for all we know,” Peterson said. “It could happen that fast.”

“I would like a commitment from the government that savings are realized from our annual fuel resupply, that this will be an option that will be explored — instead of leaving the money in general revenue,” Hickes responded.

Peterson then pointed out that the government has many competing demands, and any savings from pre-purchasing fuel “could be used in other priority areas.”

“We’ve talked about health centres, community halls, ice arenas, office buildings — you name it, we have priorities everywhere,” he said.

But, he added, as the minister also responsible for the territory’s government-owned energy supplier, Qulliq Energy Corp., “I am an advocate of alternative energy.”

“I’m also an advocate for efficiencies,” Peterson said. “So I will take your suggestions into serious consideration.”

Hickes said small-scale alternative energy projects in Nunavik and other northern jurisdictions have already demonstrated the potential for savings using solar power and wind.

He pointed to Nunavut Arctic College which has generated power from solar panels for many years at a savings of “tens of thousands” of dollars. Wind turbine projects have also demonstrated savings at mines, he noted.

Similar initiatives by the GN would show the federal government that the territorial government is serious about exploring energy alternatives, Hickes said.

“It would lend more credence to the premier’s arguments at the federal level,” the MLA said, “like when we’re asking for these major funding projects for green energy that are hundreds of millions of dollars, we can show them we’re serious about it already.”

The GN’s 2015-2016 budget, tabled last month, doesn’t include any designated money for alternative energy projects.

Premier Peter Taptuna said in the March 12 sitting of the assembly that unlike Nunavut, other Canadian jurisdictions “have collected royalties for years to put in their coffers so they can actually build alternative energy infrastructure, such as hydro dams.

“We don’t have that luxury,” Taptuna said. “At this point, we have to go to Ottawa and ask for mega-millions of dollars to build basic needs infrastructure.”

A hydro energy project in Iqaluit by Qulliq, which costs upwards of $450 million, stalled last year, and “every year we wait, the costs go up,” the premier said.

Hickes added that if government did save money on fuel resupply this year and decided to invest in alternative energy, staff could look in their own backyard for investment options

“I’d like to bring more recognition to alternative energy research that already is ongoing in Nunavut, and put a little bit of action behind some of the research that is being done out there.”

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