Nunavik wants to join Quebec power grid: Plan Nunavik
Quebec is “restricting the ability of Nunavik Inuit to develop the region”
Canada’s energy ministers may have discussed how to turn Canada into an energy superpower this past week in Alberta, but people in Nunavik just want to break their total dependence on diesel fuel to generate electricity.
Nunavik, rich in potential hydro-electric power, remains one of the few regions of Quebec where diesel generators continue to churn out electricity — because its communities are not connected to the power grid.
Nunavik’s desire for more plentiful, cheaper and cleaner power is revealed in its “Plan Nunavik.”
The lengthy document, obtained by Nunatsiaq News, spells out what the region wants from Plan Nord, Quebec’s development scheme for northern Quebec.
Nunavik plays an important role in Quebec’s plans to develop its hydroelectric potential: the rivers of Nunavik hold about 8,000 megawatts of electric power, 25 per cent of Quebec’s current output.
But in Nunavik, oil remains king: diesel power plants in Nunavik’s 14 communities gobble up 25 million litres of oil for their basic needs and they use an additional 28 million litres of oil for their heating houses — and that doesn’t include the 40 million litres of fuel that Xstrata’s Raglan nickel mine consumes for its operations.
“In a sea of renewable and relatively clean hydroelectric power,” Nunavik communities are still using fossil fuel, says Plan Nunavik. “What a paradox!”
The document points out that the economic development of any region requires transportation and communication links as well as an energy supply — but so far these have bypassed Nunavik, it says.
Manufacturing, tourism, mining, have “all been made impossible because of the lack of accessibility and lack of a reliable, adequate power source, “ it states.
As well, these shortfalls increase the price of goods by 57 to 97 per cent and contribute to high unemployment, it says.
But that could all change if Nunavik became connected to the power grid.
That’s a costly move that would take six years to see through and carry a price tag of $1.6 billion if there’s no hydroelectric power project built in the region.
If this were linked to a new hydro project that would be built in Nunavik, connecting the region to the power grid would cost $890 million over 14 years, according to a 2003 study by the engineering firm RSW, cited in Plan Nunavik.
By not moving ahead to connect Nunavik to its power grid, Plan Nunavik suggests Quebec is “restricting the ability of Nunavik Inuit to develop the region and to enjoy a better quality of life.”
Nunavik can’t use electricity for heating houses or water right now — and only recently people were permitted to run home air conditioners. And if residents use too much electricity, they’ll pay more.
The RSW study said that this cost structure prevents businesses, such as bakery in Kuujjuaq, from setting up shop because operations would cost four times more.
“With these conditions, the development of small to medium enterprises using electrical energy is not economically feasible,” the RSQ study said.
Within 15 years, Plan Nunavik wants to see Nunavik connected to the power grid along with a fibre-optic transmission line that would allow high-speed internet, eliminating the need for expensive satellite time.
Houses could be become more adaptable because room layouts wouldn’t be tied to an oil furnace, it says, and local employment would receive a boost along with local businesses. The overall cost of living would fall, Plan Nunavik predicts.
Over the next five years, Nunavik wants to see renewable energy projects. Some of these were also listed in Plan Nord when it was launched this past May, such as windmill farms in Kangiqsualujjuaq and Akulivik, an underwater tidal generator in Kuujjuaq and a small small run-of-river 7.5 MW hydro electricity generating station for Inukjuak.
But Plan Nunavik also suggests that Kuujjuaraapik and Kuujjuaq should be connected to the Quebec power grid within five years — a promise Plan Nord didn’t make.
As for hydroelectric projects, northern rivers, including the char-rich Payne River and the Natapoka River, are expected to play a large role in the realization of Plan Nord.
Climate change studies by the Ouranos climate change think-tank say warmer temperatures may melt permafrost, but could also build up water supplies in reservoirs, which could then be transformed into hydro power.
But Quebec isn’t ready yet to say yet where Nunavik may see new hydroelectric projects.