What would you do with an extra $30 million dollars? That's the question currently facing the Government of Nunavut.
The recent drop in oil price means that the Arctic territory is set to save up to $32 million in fuel costs. This offers a unique chance to invest in green energy argues George Hickes, Iqaluit-Tasiluk representative in Nunavut's Legislative Assembly.
"Very few people have actually brought up the topic of renewable energy, so I want to highlight the fact we have an opportunity now, with some of the potential savings and fuel resupply, to invest in alternative energy pilot programmes," Hickes explains.
"It gives us an opportunity to show ourselves, and the federal government, and the rest of the world, that we're serious about alternative energy solutions as well."
And so should they be. The territory is 100 percent reliant on diesel fuel for all of its electricity, importing roughly 45 million litres each year. With no grid infrastructure, each community is served by its own diesel-fired power plant, the majority of which are at, or near, the end of their lifecycle.
This is compared to the other northern territories, which are almost entirely powered by renewables. The Northwest Territories (NWT) produces about 80 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, while Yukon sources 99.5 percent of its electricity from hydro and wind power.
"It's a challenge," says Hickes of greening Nunavut's energy supply. With 25 communities totalling almost 32,000 people spread out over an area the size of Western Europe, Nunavut is a "big landmass with a small population." It is Canada's largest, northernmost, and newest territory.
Understanding this context helps explain, in part, its lack of renewable energy infrastructure. On April 1, 1995 Nunavut was officially separated from NWT. Prior to that, when money was spent investing in renewables for the territory, it was directed towards the biggest populations—western parts of NWT such as Yellowknife, not the sparsely-populated eastern portion that is now Nunavut.
But 16 years later, not much has changed. Poor infrastructure and a low level of financing are the main challenges says Hickes, not to mention pretty serious competing interests such as food security, health centres, waste treatment and management, and a severe lack of housing.
"We have communities in Nunavut that are unable to meet the demands of growth, such as housing, due to being at maximum power capacity for the generation infrastructure available. Until such a time as Nunavut expands or replaces those power plants, no growth to meet demand is available," Hickes explains.
"What I'm thinking is if we invest in things that are going to save us money in the long-run, or offset some of our fuel expenditures and greenhouse impact, it's a win-win."
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Image Credit: Derrick Midwinter via Flickr