Nunavut’s ancient power plants dying of old age

“I’m tired of seeing bandaids put on antiquated diesel plants”


The old diesel-fueled power plant in Iqaluit is one of many in Nunavut that are either at or past their best-before date. (FILE PHOTO)

The old diesel-fueled power plant in Iqaluit is one of many in Nunavut that are either at or past their best-before date. (FILE PHOTO)

Like bombs left over from a bygone war, the blunders of the pre-division planning period still blow up in the faces of Nunavut public officials.

The latest is a big one: the Qulliq Energy Corp.’s aging collection of diesel-powered electrical generating plants, many of which are long overdue for replacement — and no one knows how to pay for it all.

Peter Mackey, the president of QEC, told a public hearing of the Utility Rates Review Commission in Iqaluit Jan. 6 that rapid population growth and more building projects in many communities mean those plants are “being stressed to the point of failure.”

He said at least six power plants in Nunavut, all between 40 and 50 years old, should have been replaced by now.

For another 11 plants, built 30 to 40 years ago, the QEC should now be developing plans to design replacements and procure what’s needed to build them, Mackey said.

The worst-off region is the Kitikmeot, where the average age of a power plant is 38 years. Cambridge Bay’s old plant is 44 years old, meaning that if the QEC had the money, they would replace it immediately.

But since 1999, the QEC as been able to build only one new power plant in Nunavut, at Baker Lake.

“It’s been 10 years since we built a new power plant. We have 25 power plants. If we take 10 years between building new power plants, it means each power plant should last 250 years,” Mackey said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News last November.

To keep the other ones going, the QEC is spending ever-increasing amounts of money on maintenance.

“We have in our fleet something like 90 to 95 generators that need either regular routine maintenance or some that may need to be overhauled ever year,” Mackey said.

The situation arose because, in the years before the creation of Nunavut in 1999, planners didn’t give much thought to Nunavut’s electrical power needs.

“Something that was never taken into consideration was that the power plants that were in Nunavut at the time were designed for the size of communities that was there at the time,” Mackey said.

“The growth that the communities saw put a huge burden on the capacity of the plants, so what we spent the last 10 years doing was increasing capacity, in terms of new generators, adding generators to the communities instead of building power plants,” he said.

That growth was most acute in the 10 communities that received decentralized territorial government office buildings and staff housing complexes.

As those communities grew over the past 10 years, the QEC scrambled to put more generators into small plants originally built to serve much smaller populations.

“The money that typically go to power plants went to the huge growth we’ve seen and we had to increase capacity within the plants,” Mackey said.

Now, the cost of fixing the QEC’s infrastructure is immense by Nunavut standards.

Mackey told the Jan. 6 public hearing in Iqaluit that the QEC likely needs capital investment of $145 million over the next five years and $250 million over the next 10 years to bring its fleet of power stations up to date.

But the QEC can’t come up with that kind of money, and there’s no solution on the horizon.

Kenn Harper, the proprietor of Iqaluit’s Arctic Ventures store, said in a Jan. 6 submission to the URRC that Nunavut’s diesel generating plants are dirty, energy-guzzling pigs.

“Our diesel generating plants are pigs. We may not be putting lipstick on them, but we are putting bandaids on them. I’m tired of seeing bandaids put on antiquated diesel plants,” Harper said.

Because of this, Nunavummiut rank among the most polluting people on the planet, he said.

To fix the mess, Harper recommends big investments in hydroelectricity, using seasoned expertise from Nordic countries like Iceland and Norway.

“Greenland has used to advantage Norwegian and Icelandic companies which are the world leaders in hydro-electric power development in difficult Arctic terrain. Why can we not use the same model, which is tried and proven?” Harper said in his submission.

And if Nunavut does build hydroelectric projects, he said Nunavut should go big to accomodate future growth.

“Let’s follow the Greenland model of building to more than double the existing power load, to allow for growth and also to allow for major buildings in the community to convert from oil heat to electric heat,” Harper said.

To that end, he said the URRC should recommend the QEC scrap the proposed Jaynes Inlet hydro plant and build a bigger one on the other side of Frobisher Bay.

He said Inuit corporations may be anxious to get involved in hydro as a business opportunity and that the QEC “should investigate alternative financing methods” as soon as possible.”

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