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MLAs hot for Yk energy plan
Territorial politicians like proposed Con Mine community energy system

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 7, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The city's assurance that borrowing for the proposed Con Mine community energy system won't fall on the backs of taxpayers has Yellowknife MLAs expressing their support.

NNSL photo/graphic

The iconic Robertson Headframe covers one of the deepest mine shafts in Canada at 6,240 feet.

Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said he is really impressed with the way the city has stated it is approaching the project, basing its actions on the feasibility of the business case.

"There's a lot of safeguards built into this, that way we just don't run out and get a $49 million loan and realize it will never work," Hawkins said. "That's, I think, very good from a taxpayer point of view, to know that they're not going to go full-bore regardless."

When asked whether the GNWT should commit funds toward the energy project, Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said he doesn't think it will be necessary.

"This project sounds to me like it's already eminently financially feasible, so I think there's not direct GNWT support needed to make that a go."

The city must have funding in place by mid-March in order to receive a $10 million to $20 million grant from the federal government, so the city is holding a referendum March 14 to ask residents for permission to borrow up to $49 million to continue with the $60 million project.

The loan would be repaid by the revenues generated from the energy sales associated with the project, according to the city.

With that assurance, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro said, "I think we should go ahead with it. I think, looking way down into the future, if we have a district energy system, it's going to be beneficial for us in the city as a totality."

The system, if completed, will pump water through the now defunct Con Mine, harnessing its geothermal heat to warm 39 downtown buildings, reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent annually.

According to the business case, five per cent, or 18,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, is equivalent to taking about half of the city's vehicles off the road.

"Heating buildings by using local energy makes a ton of sense," said Hawkins. "It gets a lot of trucks off the road, (and) it stops burning fuels that we don't need to import to Yellowknife."

The biggest hurdle will be convincing the first customer to connect to the system, Hawkins said, although he does support the territorial government signing up.

"I think the GNWT could be a good potential customer," he said. "It makes a lot of sense if they can continue to use a renewable energy ... and if (the city) can sell it at a cheaper rate than oil can. I can't imagine us not jumping at the opportunity."

Dave Ramsay, MLA for Kam Lake, agreed, saying, "From a partnership perspective, the GNWT would be a natural one."

He is a bit hesitant to put his full support behind the project, though.

"If it works and there's no expense to taxpayers, then yeah it's good, it's a step in the right direction and it's something we should pursue, but you just have to be cautious," Ramsay said. "I wouldn't want to see the taxpayers in Yellowknife on the hook for any of that money should the project go sideways in any way."

As long as the business case continues to prove sound, and the project doesn't affect taxes, Ramsay said he can see how the system will benefit the city, although he would like it to benefit more than the businesses downtown.

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