The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. You can walk along roads and buildings and see them buckling as the permafrost melts. You can visit communities on the coast and see them literally falling into the sea. You can boat on the drought-ridden lakes and inhale smoke from the awful spectacle of record-breaking forest fires. These changes are crippling our ability to balance our territorial budget, and condemning our children to a planet that is beyond their capacity to repair.
I believe we need a new approach to climate change and a new energy policy. The NWT has not only failed to contribute by setting ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions, we've also failed to invest in a green economy. Part of the problem is that MLAs and Cabinet have different priorities and areas of expertise. They don't all see climate change as an opportunity to be seized. In order to help seize this opportunity, Northerners have to elect MLAs who share their belief that we no longer have to choose between a strong economy and a clean environment. If elected as MLA, I will work on three key initiatives to reduce our cost of living, empower a renewable energy economy and drive down climate-changing emissions by growing a sustainable mining sector.
I believe we need to narrow our focus. If, instead of focusing on mega projects to build large dams and transmission lines, we focus on empowering northern homeowners to save on their home heating bill, we can make real progress. An estimated 60% of Yellowknife homes are rated below EnerGuide 70, which means many Yellowknife homes are inefficient and expensive to heat. Energy retrofits such as higher-rated wall and ceiling insulation, windows/doors or biomass heating can mean large diesel or propane savings for these homes, especially in winter. While struggling to keep up with already high costs, few people have money saved for such projects and most importantly, banks only offer unsecured loans at high rates. The importance of this last point can't be overstated. We have an opportunity to work with municipal governments that can leverage preferential rates from banking institutions and offer low-interest loans for homeowners to do energy retrofits. Low interest loans up to $10,000 could be repaid with monthly fuel savings while homeowners create new construction jobs for local contractors across the NWT. At low risk and zero cost to municipal taxpayers, these low-interest loans would be secured to properties in the form of a local improvement charge.
We missed a chance to do this with both the 1st and 2nd Energy Charrettes, and the NWT Energy Plan. As Chair of the Yellowknife Energy Committee, I know the City of Yellowknife is ready to move ahead with the design of a pilot project, and the NWT Association of Communities in 2014 recommended the territorial government amend its legislation to allow northern municipalities this ability. Unfortunately, nothing has happened. If elected, I'll make territorial amendments to the Cities, Towns and Villages Act to allow for low-interest loans for heat a top and immediate priority. We can't afford to miss any more of these opportunities.
We likely won't be able to afford to build a power transmission grid across the NWT, but we can help homeowners lower fuel costs if we choose to focus on it.
As someone who has worked for 3 years in the territorial government developing energy policy, empowering our renewable energy production is very important to me. I've been involved in a number of renewable energy initiatives and believe I've developed a good understanding of what's working in the NWT and what isn't.
One of the problems is that we've done a lot of planning, but very little doing. Here is a list of territorial energy planning initiatives over the last 5 years:
Let's look back at the last 5 years and consider our performance. After all, rising fuel costs and a changing climate mean there's been an urgency to reduce our diesel dependence. In my opinion, we've had small victories, but our exhaustive efforts to strategize and plan have largely failed. We lag far behind our NWT Solar Strategy targets. We know about the multi-million dollar diesel-bailouts over the last two years because of poor hydro performance, totalling $59 million with no return on investment, despite spending $37.4 million to upgrade the Bluefish hydro dam 2 years ago. We know that in 2014, residential power rates hit 58 cents per kilowatt-hour in some communities. And even where they didn't, rates remained high relative to other areas in Canada.
If elected as MLA in the 18th Assembly, I will fight for less planning and more doing. I'll stand up for a refocused territorial effort to aggressively invest in renewable energy generation by working with communities and local clean energy companies to:
Now is the time for the territorial government to seriously invest in a clean energy economy. The rest of the world is doing it, why can't we? We are rapidly approaching the point where renewables are a realistic alternative to fossil fuels, especially in smaller communities with modest power demand. The potential of a diesel-free power supply within a couple of decades is real. While we've missed an opportunity to be proactive, an aggressive program of renewable energy generation will create local jobs and dovetail with widespread public complaints about the cost of living.
The mineral industry continually highlights a hefty cost premium for northern exploration and mining. They believe remoteness, severe weather and undeveloped infrastructure make exploration and mining substantially more expensive than in most of southern Canada, and this can make it difficult for northern Canada to attract the investment necessary to sustain the benefits generated by the industry. This is true, of course, because northerners themselves know well how the high cost of living impacts everyone who lives and does business up here.
I don't believe government has the ability, resources or role to address all of these challenges. But it wouldn't be unreasonable to establish a northern infrastructure investment bank to provide long-term financing for resource-development-related renewable energy infrastructure projects in the NWT. Such an institution could service as a mechanism to distribute conditionally repayable loans that could cover up to 25% of renewable energy projects, with the option of pardoning the loan in exchange for public ownership of that infrastructure at mine closure. Mines, in turn, would have access to low or no-interest financing to fund their own clean energy generation that would normally be available in the surrounding infrastructure for mines in southern Canada, but which are absent in the NWT. And in order to accommodate tax-limited companies, conditionally repayable loans would recognize that not all mining companies will have sufficient taxable income to benefit from other possible incentives, such as investment tax credits.
If we're trying to "level the playing field" and support mineral exploration and mining in the NWT, we have to take bold steps now. The federal government figured out a long time ago that in order to support investment in a number of industries—small business financing, aerospace and automobile—they had to use unconditional and conditional repayable loans. It worked for them and it can work for us too.