Written by John Thompson for Nunatsiaq News
Published September 20, 2018
“It’s moving one step closer to a local, sustainable energy economy” This 50-metre-tall meteorological tower was erected four kilometres west Rankin Inlet last month. For the next year, it will collect wind and solar data to help demonstrate the feasibility of a wind turbine project proposed by Northern Energy Capital.
Two new wind turbines could stand outside Rankin Inlet by 2020, generating 30 per cent of the community’s electricity, if a company’s plans come to pass.
As a first step, Northern Energy Capital erected a 50-metre meteorological tower at a location four kilometres west of the Kivalliq community last month. That tower will collect wind data over the following 12 months, to demonstrate that it makes economic sense to build wind turbines at the site.
Northern Energy Capital is a privately owned firm that’s “committed to building renewable energy projects in remote communities currently dependent on diesel fuel,” said its president, Malek Tawashy.
The company seeks partnerships with Indigenous organizations that need private-sector money to help build energy infrastructure, and that may be able to attract federal government funding for such projects, he said.
“They can be a powerful partner,” said Tawashy. “This is putting private money at risk to generate this opportunity.”
To that end, “we’ve had conversations with local Inuit organizations,” he said.
Rankin Inlet was chosen as a site because it ticks a number of boxes for the company, said Tawashy: it’s entirely reliant on fossil fuels to produce electricity, has abundant wind, is big enough in size that project appears economically feasible, and there is community interest.
“It’s moving one step closer to a local, sustainable energy economy,” Tawashy said of the project.
Past efforts to convert Nunavut’s plentiful wind into electricity have failed. The territory has seen wind turbines erected at several locations, including Rankin Inlet, but none of those turbines are operating today.
Tawashy in undeterred. On the wind turbine previously built at Rankin Inlet, he said: “The technology of the turbine, as we understand it, was not designed to withstand the severe and harsh climatic conditions of the region.
“Today there are turbines on the market that have been specifically designed for Arctic and northern climate, in terms of their ability to operate at very low temperatures as well as their ability to withstand very high winds.”
One common problem with wind turbines in northern locations is rime icing that accumulates on the machine’s blades. That’s not as big a problem in Rankin Inlet than in other locations, said Tawashy, but turbines have been developed to overcome this problem with blade heating.
Before purchasing wind turbines for Rankin Inlet, the company would seek from manufacturers “a demonstration that the turbine has performed already in communities of similar environmental challenges,” said Tawashy.
The Rankin Inlet project would involve two one-megawatt turbines with blade heating, built at an estimated cost of $12 million. It would generate enough electricity to displace more than 160,000 tonnes of carbon that would have been emitted by the community’s diesel generators over the estimated 25-year life of the turbines.
Put another way, the company says that the project would save 37 million litres of diesel—the equivalent carried by four fuel tanker ships.
The company is betting that the project will be able to produce electricity that’s cheaper than what’s currently on offer from the community’s diesel generators.
The company says its project is being designed to fit into the territory’s forthcoming independent power production policy, which it says is expected to be finalized by the Nunavut government this fiscal year.
Qulliq Energy Corp. said in an emailed statement that it’s working on amendments to the QEC Act to allow the corporation to purchase power, to be brought before the legislature during the winter sitting of 2019. QEC is also working to develop its independent power producer policy and program, expected to launch early in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, pending cabinet approval.
The meteorological tower will also collect data on solar energy. That’s being done because “there’s a lot of interest from community members who want to install solar panels on the roofs of their homes,” said Tawashy. “The intention is that they will have some data to base a decision on.”
Northern Energy Capital is also looking to build turbines in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the company has an office, as well as Pincher Creek, Alberta; Miramichi, New Brunswick; and Las Galeras, in the Dominican Republic.
Tawashy said he’s also open to exploring building wind projects in other Nunavut communities in the future.
“We don’t feel Rankin Inlet should be the only one to benefit from wind. Any number of communities we understand would like a project like this. We’re committed to exploring every community.”