Yukon needs federal cash for electric heat, transportation: Canadian Electricity Association

The president of the Canadian Electricity Association says the Yukon will need federal government support before it can shift to electricity for heating and transportation.

The president of the Canadian Electricity Association says the Yukon will need federal government support before it can shift to electricity for heating and transportation.

Sergio Marchi, a former Liberal MP, said the territory’s population is too small to make those changes affordable without government funding during a luncheon in Whitehorse Feb. 9.

“There has to be, for a region like the North, a role played by the federal government,” he said. “They don’t play the role? We’re not going to get electrification done, because it can’t be affordable by the base that sustains the budget for Yukon Energy.”

Marchi was in Whitehorse to present Yukon Energy with the CEA’s Sustainable Electricity Company designation. The utility is the fifth company to earn the designation for its commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the first in northern Canada.

Yukon Energy says that more than 95 per cent of its electricity comes from renewable energy.

But the majority of the territory’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and heating, which are harder nuts to crack.

At the luncheon, Denny Kobayashi, president of the real estate division of Northern Vision Development, said it’s difficult for businesses to switch to electric heat, even if they want to.

Kobayashi said one of his tenants — a restaurant franchise — recently designed its Whitehorse venue with an electric heating system the company uses across Canada.

He said that when he calculated what the electricity bill would be, company headquarters in Toronto thought he’d made a mistake. The system was eventually redesigned to use propane heat.

“Everywhere… in Canada, they’re promoting these clean energy heating systems which are electric,” Kobayashi told the News. “They don’t work efficiently in the North yet. Everybody wants to use them, but the costs of using them are prohibitive compared to other options.”

Kobayashi said he’d like Yukon Energy to tweak its rates so that businesses could pay fewer cents per kilowatt hour above a certain threshold.

“I think we need to rethink how we rate electricity if we really want to promote the economy at the same time as provide energy,” he said.

Currently, Yukon Energy rates increase the more a customer uses. Yukon Energy President Andrew Hall said the rates have been designed that way to promote conservation.

But he acknowledged that the price of electricity is a disincentive to switch to electric heating.

“Electrification is very attractive as a solution to climate change… yet your economics are fighting it,” he told the News.

For Marchi, the answer is to look to Ottawa. “I think it’s viable if you have a partner in the national government. I think that’s an honest answer,” he said. “They can’t put it all on the backs of an isolated territory.”

Marchi also said the feds need to help the Yukon build up its electricity infrastructure to attract mining companies to the territory.

Yukon Energy is hoping the federal government will help pay for upgrades to the Stewart-Keno transmission line, which are needed to support Victoria Gold Corp.’s Eagle Gold mine near Mayo.

Victoria Gold recently announced that it plans to be pouring gold by 2018, but Hall has cautioned that the timeline is tight. He has said that if the utility gets financing for the project in the next few months, it might just be able to finish the upgrades in time for the mine to be operating by the end of next year.

Marchi said the Canadian Electricity Association included the Stewart-Keno transmission line as one of a number of projects it presented to the federal government as being worthy of funding.

He doesn’t know if the upcoming federal budget will include a commitment to the project. But he said Ottawa needs to recognize that a mine like Eagle Gold is “pivotal to the economic prosperity of this region.”

“If the North is to continue to attract sustainable mining projects, it will have to provide first-class infrastructure or else those mines will not come to the North,” he said. “No infrastructure? No mines.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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