QEC to pick Iqaluit hydro location in four months

Construction may start by 2011


After narrowing a list of 14 potential sites down to five, the Qulliq Energy Corp. will likely decide, by December or January, on the location of a new Iqaluit hydroelectric power plant.

Jamie Flaherty, the QEC’s vice-president, revealed this information last week, at a gathering of Iqaluit business people invited to hear an update on the power corporation’s work on the Iqaluit hydro proposal.

And after the corporation chooses a single site, Flaherty said QEC’s work will intensify, moving on next year to the following tasks:

* the creation of a “bankable” feasibility study, which would include surveying, test drilling and engineering work;
* more environmental studies;
* more public consultations;
* social impact studies;
* the first steps towards environmental permitting.

Flaherty said that Iqaluit, Nunavut’s largest community, already consumes 20 to 25 per cent of the diesel oil that the QEC buys every year to generate electricity.

An Iqaluit hydro plant would replace most of that diesel, leading to cheaper power rates, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and less dependence on fossil fuels.

Under the QEC’s tentative schedule, construction could start some time between 2009 and 2011, and take two or three years to complete. The finished plant would generate electrical power for 50 to 80 years.

That construction work would produce work for numerous sub-contractors in the building trades and in areas such as catering, transportation and accomodations.

Depending on the site that’s eventually chosen, the capital cost of a new hydro plant would range from a low of $80 million to a high of $550 million.

At least 20 per cent of that capital investment would likely be spent in Iqaluit.

Flaherty said hunters and Inuit community representatives from Iqaluit, Kimmirut and Pangnirtung are already involved in the project through a committee that the corporation has set up. And Hunters’ and Trappers’ Association members are already helping QEC officials and their consultants identify traditional fishing and camping spots.

“You get to know all the good fishing spots,” Flaherty joked.

That consultation work also included a trip to Greenland in the fall of 2005, when HTA officials from South Baffin viewed a 36-megawatt power plant at Kangerluarsunnguaq, about 50 kilometres south of Nuuk.

At the same time, Knight Pisold, the B.C. consulting firm that the QEC hired in 2005 to help plan the hydro project, is finishing a second year of studies aimed at finding the best spot to locate a hydro dam and power plant.

In 2005, the QEC gave their consultants a list of 14 sites to look at, in areas within 100 km from Iqaluit where there are rivers and other water flows capable of being dammed.

That list has now been whittled down to five, along with estimates of how much power each site could produce, measured in megawatts. (20MW of power represents the total annual energy needs of about 10,000 households.)

The five sites are:

* Armshow River: 15.5 MW (on the other side of the bay, almost opposite Iqaluit)
* Jaynes Inlet: 5 MW (on the other side of the bay, just south of Iqaluit)
* Cantley Bay: 20 MW (off Ward Inlet)
* Anna Maria Port: 6.2 MW (also off Ward Inlet)
* McKeand River: 20 MW (north-east of Iqaluit)

The char-rich Sylvia Grinnell River, which flows through Iqaluit’s municipal boundaries and features a territorial park near its mouth, is now off the list, Flaherty said.

Anne Crawford, the QEC’s president, said the power corporation will likely seek a “private entity” to build and possibly operate the project under an agreement with the power corporation.

That’s because the Government of Nunavut is not allowed, under the Nunavut Act, to take on long-term debt greater than $200 million. As of March, 2003, the GN’s long-term debt stood at $136 million, only $64 million short of its debt cap.

So to pay for a big capital project such as a a hydro-electric plant, which could require the borrowing of up to several hundred million dollars, the GN must persuade private companies to borrow the money and do the work.

Crawford said the QEC has already started talking to potential developers, in the North and in the South.

To get to this point, QEC officials and consultants have spent a lot of time travelling around South Baffin over the past two summers, looking at rivers and watersheds.

“We had a heck of a time getting a helicopter,” Flaherty said.

To rate each site, experts studied the flow of water, the elevation from which the water drops, geology, and soil types.

They’ve also started gathering information that will be needed in a future environmental impact statement: fish harvest locations, lists of archeological sites, current land use, Inuit Qaujimajaqutangit traditional knowledge and so on.

Their IQ and land use information-gathering efforts included interviews with people in Iqaluit, Kimmirut and Pangnirtung, and work with Iqaluit’s Amarok HTA.

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