Energy conference a real eye-opener on the NWT's future
Plenty of questions, a few solutions and some deep consternation.
The GNWT’s expertly executed Our Energy and Climate Future in a Changing World conference was held over three days at the Chateau Nova Hotel in Yellowknife. The event drew more than 150 attendees mostly from GNWT departments, community and Indigenous movements, academia, non-profits and private businesses in the energy or renewables sectors, learning about the extreme challenges the North faces trying to follow the current federal government’s Net Zero by 2050 climate change directives.
It’s obvious that any grand public policy scheme can be achieved if there is enough funding to ensure the development, production and installation of the new technology will replace those dirty carbon fuels in a seamless fashion. But, we can’t mess around with power, transportation and heat sources in the arctic.
The federal government’s Net Zero by 2050 — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined a number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net zero emissions — will require billions of dollars in the NWT alone to wean us off diesel and provide shiny new biomass burners, solar panel farms, wind turbines and clean biofuel.
Vancouver-based consulting firm Navius Research was contracted to undertake an 18-month modelling study to analyze the impacts of climate and energy policies in the NWT. It informed much of the debate and discussion at the conference.
“This is a forecast, it's a simulation that describes how the energy economy is likely to evolve in the absence of major new policies,” said Sam Harrison, a senior analyst with Navius Research. “So this captures climate and energy policies that were on the books as of March 2022.”
Aurora Marstokk, an analyst at Navius, told the Chateau Nova conference room on Wednesday that four key technological pathways to reduce emissions in the NWT were identified:
- Maximizing use of biomass in buildings for space heating.
- Electrification, with a particular focus on building heat and light-and medium-duty electric vehicles and charging stations.
- Boosting a low carbon electricity supply with renewables (solar, wind and maybe even small nuclear) as well as storage batteries.
- Blending biofuels into the liquid fuel supply in the territory.
Policymakers could also focus on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it either using nature-based solutions or engineered solutions. There could also be offsets earned for re-forestation. (Perhaps after the trees were chopped down for biomass use?)
Until we have a better idea of how all of this will be paid for and how high a tax burden we will be expected to shoulder (the North might be de-populated if costs increase) these studies and conferences are a good chance to expand and re-shape thinking, but tangibles are still frustratingly far down the road.
The process, of course, must also include Indigenous governments and fair and transparent process to ensure we continue to advance key partnerships on energy issues. There will be new economic opportunities — and we can’t even get procurement policies figured out at the moment in the NWT.
The NWT’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in Canada is very low and is a tiny pin-prick in relation to the rest of the world. But there is no doubt the impacts of a rapidly warming climate are being felt in the North and mitigation and adaptation is needed right now.
We should do what we can to reduce pollution in a responsible manner, but there also has to be some serious regard to ensuring we don’t crush the existing economy in the zeal to secure an affordable and sustainable new green energy system.
Of course, keep in mind that a change in governments in Ottawa in the next year could see all this forecasting work get sent back to the drawing board.
The GNWT intends for the outcomes of the engagement process to inform the five-year review of the Energy Strategy and the Climate Change Strategic Framework, which the GNWT committed to initiating in 2023.