2020-2023 Sustainable Energy & Local Governance Innovation in the NWT

There is growing acknowledgment that the current energy provision system in the Canadian North is not sustainable, as high and growing energy costs are a common feature across the region. These costs are exacerbated by climate change, which is already contributing to major changes to life in the north, including decreasing animal populations, erosion of the traditional economy, and altering existing transportation systems. Governments can no longer afford the growing energy subsidies, given that public coffers are faced with growing demands on various fronts. Running parallel to this shifting landscape are changing governance structures in the region. As land claims and self-government agreements unfold, they are providing Indigenous Fwith an opportunity for greater autonomy and the consequent ability to influence energy systems management.

Consequently, there is a growing interest for energy system change in the Canadian North as some communities seek to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Similarly, there is also greater recognition that innovation must play a role in these transitions. Yet in policy discussions and debates, innovation is often narrowly defined to equate new, state of the art technologies. As a result, alternative innovative activities such as different forms of organizing and governing are frequently overlooked. Because policy levers to support low-carbon energy system transitions tend to also be based on this narrow view of innovation, is it possible that more appropriate policy supports are being neglected?    

In recognition of this potential policy gap, this research project will explore links between innovation, governance, and energy system change in three communities in Northwest Territories – Tulı́t'a, Colville Lake and Yellowknife. Throughout these communities, concerns over high costs of living, climate change, and energy security are notable factors driving energy system change, whether it be transitioning away from costly and polluting diesel to renewable sources for heat and electricity, or the adoption of energy efficiency initiatives. Therefore, the central aim of the research is to find out if there are better ways to support sustainable energy projects, such as renewable electricity, renewable heat provision, or energy efficiency initiatives at the community level in the North.

Project Team


Social Science and Humanities Research Council

Climate Change