Three parties vow to end Nunavut’s diesel dependence by 2030

“It’s super ambitious”

Students march across the Four Corners intersection in Iqaluit on Sept. 27 as part of a global climate strike demanding change. Three parties in the upcoming federal election are promising to end Nunavut’s reliance on diesel to produce electricity by 2030. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

This federal election three parties are vowing to end Nunavut’s reliance on diesel for power by 2030.

Currently, all 25 communities in the territory are powered by stand-alone diesel plants operated by the Qulliq Energy Corporation, the only energy company in the country without any developed local energy resources.

Changing that would be a massive and costly undertaking.

“It’s super ambitious,” said Martha Lenio, an Arctic renewable energy specialist with the World Wildlife Fund.

“I think it’s doable, it’s just barely doable.”

The Green Party’s election platform promises to “implement a major ramp-up of renewable electricity. By 2030, 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity will come from renewable sources. This includes getting remote and northern communities off diesel generators.”

The Liberal Party, meanwhile, says it will be “moving forward with investments that will see all Inuit communities are off diesel and instead powered by clean, renewable and reliable sources of energy—such as hydro, wind, and solar—by 2030.”

And the New Democratic Party says it “will set a target to power Canada with net carbon-free electricity by 2030…. Meeting this carbon-free electricity goal in a way that respects local communities and creates good jobs is essential. We’ll support investments in innovative community-owned and operated clean energy projects to keep jobs and expertise local, and work in partnership with Indigenous and northern communities to move off diesel.”

According to an Environment and Climate Change Canada report released earlier this year, Nunavut’s contribution to the national carbon footprint has always been less than one per cent.

In 2017, the territory produced the equivalent of 0.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, roughly the same as 18,000 passenger vehicles. The same year, Alberta, which led the country in greenhouse gas emissions, produced the equivalent of almost 84 million passenger vehicles.

Despite this, Nunavut has seen its greenhouse gas emissions increase by over 30 per cent since 2005, the biggest growth in the country and nearly double that of Alberta, which has the second-largest growth over the same period.

While the switch to renewable energy proposed by the three parties would reverse this growth, the impact it would have on the nation’s carbon footprint would be minuscule.

It’s the communities that would benefit the most.

Nunavummiut pay more for electricity than people anywhere else in the country, and investments into renewable energy could reduce that.

However, the challenge with renewable energy projects is balancing their upfront cost with the pre-existing expense of current power needs.

Last month, the WWF released a report that looked at how viable renewable energy could be in powering each of Nunavut’s 25 communities.

It found that under an eight per cent discount rate—which accounts for the level of risk on a project or other sources of funding—Baker Lake, Coral Harbor, Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet could all save money by transitioning to 20 per cent renewable energy, including upfront costs, over a 15-year period.

The study also identified 16 other communities that with a four per cent discount rate—around what QEC would be able to borrow money for—and approximately $2 million in grant funding, could also make the transition to 20 per cent renewable energy.

But the report just takes a high-level look at the viability of these projects, only suggesting making the transition to renewable energy if it’s cheaper than current energy costs.

Actually transitioning the viable communities to renewable energy would require a considerable amount of work.

“There’s a lot of consultation that would have to happen, and it would probably need to start in the next year if they’re going to hit those targets for every single community,” said Lenio.

“You would have to go to the community, work out what they would like to do, what the community vision for energy is, find out what other local priorities are and what areas around the community are important for traditional uses like harvesting and wildlife.”

That doesn’t include setting up data collection equipment for solar or wind, a process that can take two years for adequate data, or any work with the QEC to ensure that the renewable energy could connect to and integrate with their system.

Transitioning all communities to 100 per cent renewable energy, as all three parties call for, would not only require a considerable time investment but a significant financial one as well.

While the NDP and Liberals have yet to announce what their financial commitment to the transition would be, the Green Party did so last week.

Included in their platform-costing report, the party pledged $150 million over the next five years to transitioning all remote and northern communities—not just those in Nunavut—away from diesel.

It isn’t enough.

Lenio points out that for a community like Arctic Bay to transition even 60 per cent of their power to renewable energy, there would need to be a capital expenditure of at least $27.8 million.

According to the same report, for other communities to achieve even a 60 per cent reliance on renewable energy, the initial expenditures are even higher.

In Iqaluit, it’s expected to cost $148 million.

While this represents a significant reduction from the $250-500-million price tag attached to the hydroelectric project once considered by the city, it would use all Green Party allocated funds on one community.

Lenio doesn’t expect the federal government to fully pay for these projects, but added that finding project partners and ways to leverage the work also takes time.

Given the 2030 deadline, time is in short supply.

“For solar, I’d say the two- to five-year range. For wind energy, you’re looking more at like the five- to seven-year range,” said Lenio when asked how long renewable energy projects can take.

When these timelines are multiplied by more than 25 communities and intended to happen at roughly the same time across vast, remote areas with seasonal access, Lenio wonders how it would get done.

In spite of those challenges, she’s optimistic.

“Hopefully with these ambitious targets, it will result in some positive changes. Even if we don’t make it 100 per cent of the way there, it’s good to have that ambition.”

Note: This article references the federal election campaign platforms of the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP. At the time of publication, the Conservative Party had yet to officially release their platform and, thus, was not included in the story.

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(24) Comments:

  1. Posted by Steve L on

    The process is based on government backing the project. In Saskatchewan a program to buy back excess power from home solar proved so successful that the cap for special metering. Homeowners and small businesses invested in solar projects to reduce their dependence on the grid. Cost recovery is coming down so it becomes feasible over fewer years.
    But there is are special considerations for the north.
    1- Obviously daylight, or a lack of it. In the summer hours, solar would be operational and efficient for longer periods than in the south. It would reduce the reliance on diesel for part of the year. Not a perfect solution, but technology doesn’t exist for efficient long term energy storage.
    2- Long term home ownership is different in the north, at least for thoses with the finances to put $20-$30 thousand worth of panels on a roof. Public-Private Partnership funding is an option.

    First Nations have embarked on renewable resource development. Worth a look to save on expensive consultant costs.

    • Posted by Steve L on

      Should read cap was reached well before target date

    • Posted by Observer on

      Key phrase there: “…to reduce their dependence on the grid…”

      There *is* no grid in Nunavut, and is never likely to be one, except maybe in the Kivalliq if they get their corridor to Manitoba.

      • Posted by Steve L on

        The Grid is intended as a reference to commercially sourced energy as opposed to individually generated power. An equivalent would be using firewood in place of heating oil.

        • Posted by Observer on

          I am speaking of the grid. Buybacks work because power utilities can transfer that excess power to somewhere else where it can be sold or used to reduce their own operating costs. The problem is, there’s no one else for QEC to sell the power to, so buying it back makes no sense, and they’re not going to get enough surplus power to afford to shut down generators in the smaller communities, so there’s no saving.

  2. Posted by hypocrites on

    One of the Nunavut NDP loyalists on Twitter was quick to blast the Liberals when they came out last week with that 2030 date. The NDP say the same thing with fluffier language and the loyalists stay mum.

    • Posted by Karloosie Marx on

      The difference is the Liberals are promising to move every community off diesel by 2030. The NDP are promising “net carbon-free electricity” by 2030.

      Net carbon-free by 2030 is very different from pie-in-the-sky Liberal campaign promises. It means any carbon emitted in Canada will be offset – you know, like how the Liberals are offsetting their 2 (3?) campaign planes.

      The NDP Platform is more realistic and more progressive than the Liberals platform.

      You can read more about the NDP Platform here:

      Vote NDP – Hypocrisy free since 1961.

  3. Posted by Conservative Climate Plan for Nunavut? on

    Where is the statement from the conservative party? Leona is the former Minister of Environment, and has touted her experience in cabinet as her strong suit. Yet, no word on her approach to climate change in Nunavut? Besides scrapping the dreaded carbon tax. Maybe she will issue a statement closer to election day, or maybe she, like many conservatives, simply don’t recognize the importance of the issue? I’d like to know. Wouldn’t you?

  4. Posted by Japanese postcard on

    Maybe try recycling first? Pop cans, appliances, old vehicles, etc. Basic things like this aren’t done to a noticeable degree in Nunavut, never mind something so grandiose which hasn’t yet been successful, “down South”.

    • Posted by Your fallacy is… on

      What you are presenting is a false dichotomy.

    • Posted by Raven on

      Send this idea back to the recycle centre.

  5. Posted by Ken on

    Drive a power line through from Manitioba

    • Posted by OMG think what you said on

      OMG, why does the Kivalliq want to buy electricity from Manitoba when we could generate our own.

      Why pay to build and spend millions maintaining a thousand kilometer power line so that you can pay for the power that leaks through it.

      Build our own!

      • Posted by Erik on

        It takes too long to build new power dams and there is no way to sell the excess power if was built first (or other forms of generation). Perhaps use MB Hydro as a source of funding to build the infrastructure and share the costs. Then in a few decades construct generation up there and sell any excess capacity to the south. Also, MB has 2 more generation sites planned to be but haven’t yet because there is not enough demand

  6. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    The north, and remote communities within most of the provinces, will continue to be a challenge to Canada achieving the goal of 100% renewable energy.
    Even with wind turbines, solar panels, hydro projects and other exotic forms of energy production (micro nuclear, tidal, deep geothermal) this only solves some of the needs of remote communities.
    Most of the readily achievable renewable energy sources require battery storage for when the renewable energy source does not meet peak demand. But that’s only part of the equation. Battery storage technology is not there yet, and batteries don’t work particularly well in cold temperatures.
    Theoretically you would be able to heat homes and power cars. Now try to adapt that technology to aircraft. Adapt it to large ships, factory fishing vessels, and smaller boats (such as individuals use in the north). How about a 4 wheeler? How about a snowmobile?
    Some of these are certainly possible, even under current technology, but not for the time, distances, and conditions in Nunavut. Quite the problem.
    Now I’m not saying that it can’t be done. I’m just saying that it’s not going to be easy, and it will require a whole lot more money than any of the political parties are talking about right now.
    Having spent the better part of today reviewing party platforms it’s really difficult to figure out what each party would spend on climate change and green energy. The best that I can come up with is somewhere between $600M and $1.2B per year, over the next 10 years.
    Now put that into terms you and I can understand. If I’ve done my math right, that’s $17 to $34 per year for each Canadian. Yeah, that’s it. That’s what the political parties think it is going to take to fix this problem.
    They are all idiots!.
    Admittedly I don’t know what it’s going to cost, but it is something that we have to do, and we need to do it now. Let’s say $300 per person per year, $10.5B per year. Sure it would be tough for many but I’m betting that most people spend more than that alone on their cell phone, or booze, or cigarettes, or lottery tickets. Let’s get serious people.
    And I’m not saying that each person needs to take $300 out of their pockets, especially when many can’t afford housing, or even food. As Willie Sutton said when he was asked why he robbed banks, “It’s because that’s where the money is”.
    Many corporations pay little to no tax, a small tax (especially on revenue) will generate a lot of money. Profits go to shareholders either in Canada or out of the country. Increase the tax rate on dividends, and tax it at the source. Buy/sell stocks, tax the transaction. Again a very small tax will generate a lot of money. Make a million dollars, chip in another 10 thousand. Make 10 million, chip in another 200 thousand, it’s not like you’re going to be broke!
    Am I advocating that only the rich pay? Nope. Everybody plays, everybody pays. We all have a stake in solving this problem.
    One last point, put the money back into the country. Make sure that Canadian companies do the development, the manufacturing, the installation, the maintenance. That way this benefits every single person in the country, and if we get good at it we can sell it to the world.
    Is there any politician out there with the vision to do this?

  7. Posted by Diesel Mechanic on

    OMG! all the candidates failed right away so disappointing there is no way we will get away from diesel generation.
    Some communities can with hydro but most of them don’t the rivers to do it and if they think nuclear power is the answer think again because the just the licensing itself is in the millions so its so disappointing with the candidates IQ and they probably think they lower the cost of living if they get voted in but no one has ever lowered it in every level of government.
    So a bad start for all the candidates so please focus on other issues and stay away power generation issues because all of you have no clue in providing power for Nunavummiut.

    • Posted by iRoll on

      ” if they think nuclear power is the answer think again because the just the licensing itself is in the millions” …

      WTF are you taking about?

      • Posted by Diesel Mechanic on

        Check it out what the cost of the license would be to have nuclear power that option has been checked out.

        • Posted by iRoll on

          Licensing fees are an artificial barrier that could easily be readjusted by a government that was serious about decarbonizing energy.

  8. Posted by Balter on

    Okay solar in 24 hour sunlight makes sense. For about four months. Then what? Do the Greens understand what happens to equipment like wind turbines in forty below with seventy below windchill? I know the wind turbines around Dawson Creek are braked and anchored over 70 kmh wind they can’t stand high windspeeds. And so you have to maintain the diesel network as backup at the very least. Also it takes ten heavy haulers and a crane a month from port to erection of one wind turbine.

  9. Posted by Hayley on

    Does anyone know which document from Environment and Climate Change Canada the article is referencing to? I am currently looking for the document and not having much luck. Any help would be appreciated 🙂

  10. Posted by Putuguk on

    Migration into the regional centers and Iqaluit is really going to help solve this problem. In other parts of the arctic, people eventually tend to move to larger communities.

    The challenge now is to replicate alternative energy infrastructure 25 times for each and every isolated community. The cost and payback to tackle that is prohibitive. For communities such as Resolute and Grise that already have stopped growing, no efforts should be made to install these systems.

    When there are more people in one spot, where electrical demand is concentrated, it is more economically feasible to build public infrastructure to support them. Iqaluit Hydro and Tidal is hugely important in this regard.

    In the decades to come, when there are 20,000+ people living there, and much fewer people elsewhere, having a dam and underwater turbines built and operating will carve out a very large chunk out of our carbon footprint.

    Nunavut and the federal governments to come should very much avoid a scatter-gun approach to this.

  11. Posted by Denier by definition on

    Nuclear is the future of Nunavut.

    We have Uranium in Kivalliq, and Baffin Island. If you want to save the planet we will have to convert.

    Alternatively we could update all Generators to burn cleaner, and have a system where we sell solar energy back into the grid.

    Wind turbines are too expensive for upkeep. It has been tested in the north and to be frank… they’re not around anymore.

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