An energy policy for Nunavut
The recent spat over the Nunavut Power Corp.’s proposal to add a temporary amount to monthly power bills is of obvious concern to business people, especially those who operate power-guzzling restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores.
But if the issue has now degenerated into a confusing muddle, that’s because the systems that Nunavut uses to supply and pay for energy are themselves a confusing muddle.
Whether it’s diesel fuel for electrical power generation, heating oil for buildings, or gasoline for vehicles, Nunavut’s energy supply system is a mish-mash of subsidies, cross-subsidies, revolving stabilization funds and complex rate structures that few ordinary people understand.
Underlying that confusing system there is one harsh and obvious reality: the people of Nunavut are guzzling energy at a skyrocketing rate, eating up growing amounts of public funds. The Nunavut government already spends over $120 million a year on fuel and electricity, close to one-fifth of its entire budget.
At the same time, few Nunavummiut are aware of the real cost of energy in Nunavut — because retail prices for almost all energy products are kept artificially low by subsidies and revolving funds.
But somebody must pay the real cost of energy. In our case, it’s the Government of Nunavut, which faces a future in which burgeoning energy costs threaten to siphon public funds away from badly needed social and economic priorities.
And because almost all the energy we consume in Nunavut is supplied by the burning of imported fossil fuels, the Nunavut government has little control over those real costs. Those costs are set by capricious, wildly fluctuating world energy markets, which in turn are influenced by wars, political upheavals, and economic crises affecting energy producing nations.
There are only two ways through which Nunavut might win more control over its rising energy costs. The first is to find cheaper ways of generating energy, especially electrical power. The second is to use less energy.
At least one elected official in Nunavut is getting the message.
After returning from a national municipal leaders’ forum on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, Keith Irving, an Iqaluit city councillor, suggested that the city of Iqaluit could reduce energy consumption in its buildings by 20 to 50 per cent, and reduce fuel consumption in its fleets of vehicles.
All other municipal governments, along with the Government of Nunavut, must start thinking along these lines. For its part, the Government of Nunavut should develop its own internal energy conservation policy, along with the Nunavut Housing Corp.
But that’s not enough. Nunavut must also look at hydroelectric power, wind-power, and even solar energy. Of those three alternatives, hydroelectric is the most promising. Hydroelectric power is cheap, clean and, unlike wind and solar power, it’s a proven, highly developed technology.
By the year 2005, one-third of all the fuel burned by the Nunavut Power Corp. to generate electrical power in Nunavut will be burned in the City of Iqaluit.
Iqaluit is located next to a river. Given all that, it would be foolish not to consider the idea of a small hydroelectric generating station on the Sylvia Grinnell River to generate electrical power for Nunavut’s capital. It’s a project that, by itself, could reduce Nunavut’s electrical energy costs by one-third. Nunavut can’t afford to ignore the idea, controversial though it may be. The very least the government should do is produce a cost-benefit feasibility study on the idea.
Similarly, Nunavut should re-double its efforts to extend Manitoba Hydro’s power grid into the Kivalliq region, a scheme that could lead to hydroelectric stations in that region.
Above all, Nunavut needs a brand-new energy policy, coupled with a strong political commitment to carry it out. Such a policy should emphasize the creation of new energy sources, energy conservation, public education, and a simplification of Nunavut’s energy pricing and supply system.
If this doesn’t happen, petty squabbles over power rates and fuel prices will occur again and again and again – and they will be the least of the problems that we’ll create for ourselves. JB