'It has the capacity to supply Iqaluit for a very long time'
QEC to ponder Armshow River hydro site
Iqaluit residents moved a tiny step closer to a greenhouse-gas-free future this week when Qulliq Energy Corp. revealed the site they're most likely to use for Iqaluit's first hydroelectric plant.
Saying their choice represents the best balance between cost, environmental impact and generating capacity, a special committee set up by the corporation is now recommending that a dam and reservoir be built on the Armshow River at a place called Akulikutaaq.
That location, whittled down over the past three years from a list of 14 potential sites, sits across the bay from Iqaluit about 10 km up-river from the coast.
"What they [the hydro committee] told us is that it is nearby, but not on, the route to Kimmirut. It is away from the main fishing areas on that river and it has the capacity to supply Iqaluit for a very long time," Anne Crawford, the power corporation's president, told reporters April 21, the day before Earth Day.
Consultants with Knight Piésold, a firm hired by the power corporation, say the Armshow site could support a hydroelectric plant capable of generating up to 15.5 megawatts of power.
That's more than enough to supply Iqaluit's current electricity needs, which now peak at around nine megawatts in January and February.
The hydro committee, made up of representatives from community groups in Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Kimmirut, made the recommendation in a letter sent earlier this month to the power corporation's board of directors.
The board will make a final decision at a meeting to be held May 2. The QEC has so far spent $4.1 million over the past three years on studies and consultations related to the hydro project.
Crawford told reporters that a dam, reservoir and power station at the Armshow site would likely cost between $200 and $250 million, most of which would be supplied by private investors.
She said that within 18 months, the QEC hopes to negotiate a private-public plan to finance construction of the project. She said this could involve participation from institutional investors such as pension plans and trust funds.
The QEC's consultants estimate the construction phase of the project would create about 220 jobs and that about 20 per cent of capital spending could go to Iqaluit suppliers and contractors.
An environmental review and further engineering studies would take two to three years to finish. Construction would require another two to three years.
After that, the plant, connected to Iqaluit by a transmission line curving around the end of the bay, would churn out electricity for 50 to 80 years, replacing nearly all of the 13 million litres of diesel that Iqaluit consumes each year at its existing power plant.
"When you buy fossil fuels you burn what you buy. With a hydro dam, you keep what you've bought," Crawford said.
And she said it's possible that in the future, any excess electricity generated by the hydro plant could be sold for use in heating buildings.
Faced with rising fuel costs and mounting concerns over the greenhouse gases emitted by its diesel generators, QEC began work three years ago on developing a hydroelectric plant for Iqaluit.
The Government of Nunavut, which subsidizes 84 per cent of Nunavut's energy bills, now spends more than 20 per cent of its budget on energy.
The existing diesel power plant in Iqaluit consumes one-third of all the diesel fuel that Nunavut imports each year, which makes Iqaluit a prime spot for replacing diesel with hydro.
And Crawford said that unlike wind-generated power, hydroelectricity is a proven technology with a long history of success in northern Canada.
"When we're dealing with this much money, we want a technology that is well-founded," Crawford said.
In recommending the Armshow River site, the hydro committee rejected a location at Jaynes Inlet that won favourable reviews from QEC consultants.
Because of certain natural advantages, a dam and reservoir at Jaynes Inlet could be built for about $80 million. But the site is only capable of generating between five and nine megawatts of power.
For that reason, QEC consultants suggested a Jaynes Inlet dam be combined with one or two smaller projects on the Armshow River system.
But the hydro committee opted for a one-site fix.
"They [the hydro committee] placed a particular value on displacing the fossil fuels, making a long-term commitment, and making a long-term decision in terms of providing energy for Iqaluit. They wanted the company to go forward with a substantial project, not a series of smaller ones," Crawford said.
The project would involve a dam, about 60 or 70 metres high, that would span the width of the Armshow River at a spot located about eight to 10 km from the river's mouth.
The dam would create a small water storage reservoir, about two km long, which would flood a natural valley that lies up-river.
After the reservoir fills up, controlled streams of water would flow continuously through special channels called "penstocks," which would direct the water through turbines located in a powerhouse, the building where the electricity would be generated.
These kinds of "storage" projects are the only types that can be made to work year-round in most parts of northern Canada.
That's because peak flows of water occur in late spring and summer – when demand for electrical power is low. In the dead of winter, when demand for power is high, water flows are extremely low and some rivers stop running.
So to get around that problem, storage-type hydro projects use year-round reservoirs to guarantee a continual flow of water.