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N.W.T.'s carbon tax exemption for heating fuel unlikely to deter homeowners from going green, advocate says

Fossil fuel costs will continue to drive N.W.T. residents to save energy and use greener heating methods, with or without a carbon tax, said Mark Heyck of the Arctic Energy Alliance. (CBC - image credit)
Fossil fuel costs will continue to drive N.W.T. residents to save energy and use greener heating methods, with or without a carbon tax, said Mark Heyck of the Arctic Energy Alliance. (CBC - image credit)

People in the Northwest Territories will continue to adopt greener home heating technologies with or without a carbon tax, according to the executive director of the Yellowknife-based not-for-profit Arctic Energy Alliance (AEA).

Mark Heyck said the cost of energy in the territory is so high that he expects the Alliance's energy-saving programs to be popular no matter what.

"A lot of our programs have been extremely popular with N.W.T. residents, with businesses, with community and Indigenous governments," he said.

"So I think, carbon tax or no carbon tax on heating fuel, we'll continue to see that popularity."

The territorial government is creating an N.W.T. exemption on the carbon tax on home heating oil, since the federal government has offered such an exception to the federal carbon tax, according to N.W.T. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek.

Exemption in place by April, minister says

It's hoping to have the exemption in place by April, Wawzonek told CBC News.

Wawonek said that the territorial government will provide the exemption that the federal government is allowing – namely an exemption on diesel home heating fuel.

It will then adjust its cost-of-living offset (COLO) to ensure that the approximately 20 per cent of N.W.T. residents using propane and those using LNG receive similar financial relief.

Asked if the exemption would discourage people from taking advantage of the AEA's energy efficiency and greener energy programs, Wawzonek echoed Heyck, saying that the high cost of fuel and the obvious impacts on climate change in the North are motivating people to look for alternatives to fossil fuel heat, with or without the extra tax.

"Do we need a carbon tax that is not necessarily tooled to the realities of that to add the incentive?" she asked. "I'm not sure that people did."

N.W.T. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek will release her first budget on Tuesday. Unlike her provincial counterparts, massive spending increases aren't an option.
N.W.T. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek will release her first budget on Tuesday. Unlike her provincial counterparts, massive spending increases aren't an option.

N.W.T. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said investment from Ottawa is needed to fund major projects that would help the territory reduce its dependence on diesel. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

One of the partners in Energy North, a company that wholesales wood-pellet heating systems in N.W.T., agreed.

"Will it stimulate change? No. It will not stimulate change," Jan Larsson said of the carbon tax.

"What stimulates change is the federal government's really good programs where they promote change to renewable energy … by giving subsidies to offload some of the cost of buying a product and having it installed."

The AEA programs are very successful, he said.

Arctic Energy Alliance programs stimulating change, vendor says

Customers tell him it's those, and not the carbon tax, that are driving their purchasing decisions.

The AEA offers rebates to people who purchase energy efficient products, such as large kitchen and laundry appliances, LED lighting, home insulation, and lower-carbon heating solutions.

It also offers rebates to help homeowners, businesses, non-profit organizations and governments complete energy-conserving home retrofits and purchase hybrid and electric vehicles.

In fact, the home energy evaluations that the AEA offers to help homeowners assess their energy-saving options are so in-demand that there are long waiting lists, Heyck said.

The not-for-profit has had to hire more people to help with the evaluations and bring in contractors from outside the territory, he said.

Ultimately, Wawzonek said that large-scale solutions are needed to wean N.W.T. off its dependence on fossil fuels.

Those include going ahead with the proposed Taltson hydro expansion and increasing the number of transmission lines from hydro-electric sources in the south of the territory.

Those projects will require investment from Ottawa, the minister said.

She would also like to see the federal government work with the territory to explore the potential of small modular nuclear reactors.

It is important to address shortages of skilled professionals and labourers able to work with cleaner technologies, Heyck added, which is an ongoing challenge in the North.