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Blowing out Yukon's diesel dependency

Destruction Bay earned its name from the wind. Seventy years later, wind prospector J.P. Pinard hopes to capitalize on that reputation.

Destruction Bay earned its name from the wind.

Seventy years later, wind prospector J.P. Pinard hopes to capitalize on that reputation.

The mechanical engineer has been paying attention to Destruction Bay and neighbouring Burwash Landing ever since he first became interested in renewable energy.

It’s an interest that goes back decades, long before Pinard ever made his way to the territory.

“I met someone in Toronto who told me, basically ordered me, that as an engineer it was my responsibility to do good and serve the public,” he said, sitting in the front room of his Whitehorse home.

Pinard moved to the territory in 1992 and broke into the Yukon’s small circle of renewable energy enthusiasts.

“It became obvious that wind was the next big thing for the territory,” said Pinard.

He and a few colleagues began doing research and studies, including one in Destruction Bay.

But Pinard quickly discovered he didn’t know enough.

He went back down south to school for the next 10 years. After finishing his PhD in 2008, Pinard returned to the Yukon and picked up where he left off.

The territory’s renewable-energy sector had grown and it looked like he might finally get the support he needed for his ideas for Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing.

The Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College recently began working with the Kluane First Nation to create an inventory of emissions from the approximately 65 homes in the area.

Currently, the two small Yukon communities get all their power from diesel generators.

Pinard hopes this initial project - gauging the amount of energy needed - will be the first step to cutting diesel consumption.

A small wind farm, with two to 10 turbines, situated between the two communities, could displace about 30 per cent of the diesel dependency, said Pinard. And that’s only phase one.

“Phase two - I’d like to make it displace at least twice that or more,” he said.

He hopes that if he can get the First Nation and college on board, the rest of the support he needs will follow shortly after.

During the past year, the Yukon Electrical Company - which owns the diesel plant - has been encouraging Pinard to get all the feasibility studies for a wind farm out of the way, he said.

Basically, Pinard needs to prove it will cost the same or less to use wind instead of diesel.

It’s something Alaska realized a long time ago, said Pinard. The U.S. government dedicated $50 million over five years to develop renewable energy in that state.

After attending conferences and workshops in Alaska, Pinard has accumulated a list of ideas he’d like to apply in the territory.

“I have enough experience and confidence now that I can take a project like this and take it to the next step,” said Pinard.

But the engineer has seen good ideas go by the wayside before.

Since the two wind turbines were put on top of Haeckel Hill, Pinard has watched that dream blow away. Wind just isn’t that much of a priority, he said. The Haeckel Hill site was only intended to be a test and it should have been expanded by now.

Mount Sumanik, the ridge behind Haeckel Hill, could produce more energy than the Mayo B hydro dam, he said.

“And in fact, we suggested that,” Pinard said. “They wanted to do Mayo B and we put together a case saying they shouldn’t do Mayo B, they should build Sumanik. For the same amount of money they were asking for to build Mayo B, you could do a wind farm that could produce twice the amount of energy that Mayo B will produce.”

Pinard’s optimism and enthusiasm wane noticeably when he admits the territory’s lack of interest in renewable energy has only followed Canada’s overall example.

“Canada, as a country, we suck,” he said.

“On the world stage, we don’t look very good. And we’re doing nothing about it. I feel ashamed to be Canadian, to say the least. It boggles my mind to see our government take this direction.”

But since Pinard presented the Sumanik case a few years ago, the breeze in the territory seems to be changing.

The Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay project is gaining momentum.

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the people,” he said.

The Yukon Research Centre, the Kluane First Nation and possibly even the Yukon Electrical Company could be the perfect combination to blow this idea off the ground.

“The stars are lining up,” said Pinard. “The Yukon government is showing support for renewable energy. They’ve stated in their energy strategy that they will promote renewable energy in diesel communities. And I’ve been talking to a lot of folks in the Yukon government and they’re excited about this.”

They’d like to turn off the diesel completely. It could still be used as backup, if other energy sources - including wind, solar and possibly geo-exchange - can’t produce enough.

Pinard also hopes to eventually put a “smart grid” in the communities. Smart grids help manage multiple sources of energy, switching to solar power when the sun is shining or to the wind when it’s blowing. It also helps to ensure excess energy is stored.

But for now, the focus is on the wind farm, which Pinard plans to have running in two years.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at