While 82 percent of Canada’s electricity comes from clean sources, most of the country’s remote communities depend on diesel generators for their power. With the federal 2023 budget focused squarely on clean electricity, it's not surprising these plans include support for projects in Canada’s North to transition away from diesel.
Northern clean electricity projects specifically mentioned in the budget include the First Nation-led Atlin Hydro Expansion Project into Yukon, the Inuit-led Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link (KHFL) into Nunavut, and the Taltson Hydro Expansion Project in the Northwest Territories (NWT).
This year’s federal budget also announced investments in improving Indigenous economic participation in major projects, as well as increased support for the participation of Indigenous Peoples in environmental and regulatory assessments of major projects in the North.
B.C. First Nation to supply electricity to Yukon
Atlin is in the northwest corner of British Columbia, close to the borders of Alaska and Yukon. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation, who live in and around Atlin, began operating its first hydro project in 2009, reducing diesel generation and providing environmentally friendly clean energy to the community.
The Tlingit Homeland Economic Limited Partnership, which is 100 percent owned by the Taku River First Nation, now has plans for an expansion that will increase the power station’s generating capacity from 2.1 MW to 8.5 MW — enough electricity to power as many as 7,650 homes.
The expansion includes a transmission line to power other communities in Yukon, where diesel generators are still used to produce electricity. Along with increasing the generation capacity and adding a transmission line, the project is complemented by a 40-year power purchase agreement with Yukon Energy.
According to Chris Milner, President and CEO of Yukon Energy Corporation, “The Atlin Hydro Expansion Project will benefit all grid-connected communities in The Yukon, supplying our grid with much needed dependable winter capacity.”
In 2022, the Canada Infrastructure Bank committed $80 million towards the project, which is expected to reduce climate emissions by approximately 19,500 tonnes annually. Once Yukon Energy starts purchasing electricity from Atlin, they will need to rent fewer diesel generators in Whitehorse and Faro.
Nunavut grid line gets thumbs up
The 2023 federal budget also recognized the importance of the Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link, which will connect the Kivalliq region of Nunavut to Manitoba’s electricity grid, providing seven communities and two mining sites with electricity and high-speed internet.
The project is being led by Nukik, an Inuit-owned corporation whose majority owner is the Kivalliq Inuit Association, which is the elected body representing all Inuit in the Kivalliq region. Nukik intends to advance towards construction planned for 2026, with the goal to commission and energize the line by the end of 2030.
“Budget 2023's mention of the project reinforced that it is seen as a critical clean electricity project. And while we're grateful the KHFL was mentioned, we were hoping to see defined funding allocated to its development,” said Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin, CEO of Nukik Corporation. “Nunavut takes up 20 percent of Canada’s land mass, yet there is a complete absence of infrastructure connection between it and the rest of the country. This is a tragedy for Nunavut. KHFL and its Inuit leaders will continue having discussions with federal partners until this critical infrastructure gap is addressed.”
Cleaner energy for eastern NWT
Budget 2023 also signalled support for the Taltson Hydroelectric Expansion project, which will provide clean energy to the Slave Geological Province, an area in the eastern NWT rich in mineral deposits.
Right now, there are two isolated electric power transmission systems to service the North Slave and South Slave regions. The project will add 60 MW of generation capacity to the existing 18 MW facility on the Taltson River, and construct 270 kilometres of transmission lines to connect the two transmission systems.
Once operational, the new Taltson generating station has the potential to eliminate an estimated 240,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by replacing diesel power generation. It will also increase electricity reliability in the region, including for businesses and residents in Yellowknife.
The project is part of a longer-term vision to connect the North and South Slave electricity grids with the North American electricity system. Combined with the development of a transportation corridor, the goal is to connect mines in the Slave Geological Province to renewable energy to support industry.
However, there are critics of the expansion, including Bob Bromley of Alternatives North and former MLA for the Weledeh district of the NWT. He notes that for most of the time since construction 60 years ago, the 18 MW plant has wasted 8 to 9 MW per year. He believes the priority should be using that wasted power as a clean energy source for businesses and residents in the area. The next step would be the expansion to 60 MW to support a nearby mine and further reduce emissions.
As for further expansion, Bromley asked, “Why spend billions, given that mines and provincial energy demands are distant and have shown no interest in purchasing such expensive power? Long-distance transmission lines across remote settings are very costly, and given our changing climate, line maintenance becomes challenging. I don’t believe such a project would yield a net reduction in emissions.”