'Milestone' hit as wind turbine arrives in Inuvik; but project now more than $20M over budget

·4 min read
Arrival of parts of the wind turbine on the evening of Sept 20. in Inuvik, N.W.T. (Karli Zschogner/CBC - image credit)
Arrival of parts of the wind turbine on the evening of Sept 20. in Inuvik, N.W.T. (Karli Zschogner/CBC - image credit)

It wasn't easy delivering a single 3.5-megawatt wind turbine — with blades that at 67 metres span more than the width of a football field — but with the help of three barges, the parts began to arrive in Inuvik, N.W.T. on Tuesday.

And, it was done without damage, says the Northwest Territories government, calling it a "milestone" feat. Albeit. the project, and the shipping itself, was delayed due to various reasons.

"It's not like we're driving a transport truck down the major highway," said Steve Hagerman director of Marine Transport in Hay River.

Hagerman said "considerable groundwork" was done at the terminal in Inuvik last month to make sure it was level, among other "enhancements" to prepare for the barges.

The turbine is part of the Inuvik Wind Project, which officials hope will reduce the amount of diesel needed for power in the community by 30 per cent. That would offset diesel consumption in Inuvik, the N.W.T.'s largest diesel-powered community, by three million litres annually, the territory said.

Tony Coleman, who's into his 12th season of being a deckhand, said he's never witnessed such a large delivery.

Karli Zschogner/CBC
Karli Zschogner/CBC

"This is the biggest I've ever seen," he said. "We've had big fuel tanks and everything we've taken to DEW line sites, but I've never seen anything like this take up the full length of the barge [and] it's sticking out over too."

Construction of the project began in January 2022, and its expected the turbine will be operational by early 2023.

Putting it together involves the installation of the turbine and a small battery storage system, a six-kilometre access road, and a distribution line connecting it to existing lines near Inuvik's Mike Zubko Airport.

Cost for turbine well over budget

The wind project hasn't been without a snag.

On top of delays, the cost to build the access road, costs for cranes to move and assemble the turbine, and the cost of a battery storage system are all higher than anticipated.

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC), which is responsible for the Wind Turbine Project via its sister company NT Energy, says it might cost about $20 million extra.

Part of the added costs are for the access road, the bid for which came in at $2.1 million more than was estimated in the original budget, according to Doug Prendergast, NTPC's manager of communications. The access road contract is about 15 per cent of the project total.

Prendergast counted inflation due to ongoing global supply chain issues caused by COVID-19-related lockdowns around the world and geopolitical factors as part of the reason for higher costs.

Karli Zschonger/CBC
Karli Zschonger/CBC

While the turbine itself did not cost extra, as it was purchased before the pandemic, Prendergast said, there's a host of other elements for the project that did.

Things like estimates for the battery energy storage system, the cost to mobilize large cranes to raise the turbine and costs for storage and project management are all higher than anticipated.

"While final budget costs can't be determined until the project is completed, the current estimated budget is in the $60-$70 million range," said Prendergast.

The original budget was approximately $40 million.

The territory has reached out to Infrastructure Canada about the project funding shortfall, and the territory "will be following up to discuss this issue, in an effort to help alleviate project cost escalations," Prendergast said.

In 2018 the project became the first of its kind in the N.W.T. to get funds from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, according to the territory. The federal government previously announced it's putting up to $30 million toward the project, while the territorial government is contributing $10 million.

It's not clear who will cover the substantial overage needed to finish the project.

In an email, Infrastructure Canada confirmed it's aware that Inuvik's wind project is facing cost increases. The department said it is currently reviewing information submitted by the N.W.T. government "to see how it can be addressed within the parameters of the Arctic Energy Fund."

Road construction, then assembly

For now, the turbine blades and other components will be stored at the Marine Transportation Services (MTS) facility in Inuvik, while work is ongoing on the access road — right now about 50 per cent complete and set to open in November — and at the site.

The territory said distribution line materials are on site and installation has begun, while work is still being done on the turbine's foundation.

Eventually the blades and other parts will be taken to their final destination, about 12 kilometres down the Dempster Highway and then another five kilometres up a winding road.