There are mixed signals coming out of Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon government these days.
The government seems poised to sever its nine-year-old rate stabilization fund.
The fund was established in 1998 after the shutdown of Faro’s lead-zinc-silver mine.
Fearing the rate shock that would occur after the utility lost that major customer, the government stepped in and shielded the ratepayers through an annual $3-million subsidy to the utility.
Today, the Yukon Party government appears to be losing its fear of rate shock. Though it has extended the stabilization fund until June, it probably will eliminate it after that.
If so, power bills could increase as much as $37.17 a month for residential power customers. For many, that represents a jolt of somewhere between 28 and 37 per cent a month.
Commercial customers could see their bills rise $31.92 a month.
And municipalities could see an increase of up to $29.13.
Officials suggest this is tough love, a way to make consumers more responsible and energy efficient.
They call it a conservation initiative.
And we all have to do our part to save the planet.
But we question the merits of increasing the cost of hydro-generated electrical power.
Hydro is environmentally friendly power, at least once the dams are built.
Increasing its cost will just force ratepayers to convert to propane or diesel furnaces, which produce greenhouse gases.
Second, the government is spending $5 million to build a third turbine at Aishihik Lake.
This is being funded through a $5-million grant to the Yukon from Ottawa’s $1.5 billion ecoTrust.
It, too, is billed as a conservation initiative — producing more environmentally benign hydro power to supplant diesel generation.
But recently, we were reminded that powering that third turbine will require drawing more water from Aishihik Lake.
In the past, that’s proved to be a touchy subject, especially with the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations.
And, to date, we have heard of no consultations on the subject.
It is also odd because the government is pumping more hydroelectric power onto the grid even as the cost of power is set to rise.
And that increased cost is liable to curb demand.
So what’s going on?
Third, the government is spending another $10 million of public money to extend the hydro grid from Carmacks to Stewart Crossing.
The money was pledged even before the project passed several public reviews.
The infusion of public money will blunt the Yukon Utilities Board’s review. It is mandated to assess a project’s impact on cost to ratepayers. The less impact, the less objection the board is likely to have.
So, the government grant — outside the rate base — will reduce the cost to the utility, which should smooth approval by the utility board.
Already, the utility has spent $450,000 pre-designing the transmission line, which has not been approved. But they clearly think it’s in the bag.
The power will flow to Pelly Crossing, a village of 300 people.
But it will pass Sherwood Copper’s Minto mine. It is supposed to open this year.
That mine will benefit from the territory’s hydroelectric power. It won’t have to use as much costly diesel.
That, too, is good for the environment.
But it is also good for the mine.
It will cut its costs, and increase its profit margin.
Of course, we don’t know how long the mine will operate. And we don’t know what will happen to electrical rates once the mine’s copper reserves are depleted.
History shows the loss of a single mine can cost the remaining electrical consumers a bundle.
And so, to sum up, the government is moving toward increasing the cost of hydro. That will curb demand.
But the government is increasing supply. And it is extending its availability to a village and a large copper mine.
It has called this a green agenda.
Or is the Yukon government simply hiding a $15 million grant to industry in a green veneer?
Is Dennis Fentie pursuing a conservation agenda?
Or is he pursuing a conservative agenda, and just pronounced it wrong? (RM)