Power to the people

True story. The other day, a 12-year-old boy was watching an episode of Smallville with his parents. In the show, the lights flickered and went…

True story.

The other day, a 12-year-old boy was watching an episode of Smallville with his parents.

In the show, the lights flickered and went out, plunging the Luthor Manor into darkness. The characters got nervous, and Lex firmly ordered Lana not to move.

“What’s going on?” said the 12-year-old Yukoner. “Why are they so freaked out about a power outage?”

And so the parents hit the pause button and explained that, in most North American cities, power outages are not a weekly event, as they are here.

Of course, that leads to other questions.

Why is the Yukon’s power supply so flaky?

Why is our power so dirty — prone to spikes and circuit-damaging brownouts?

What is the Crown-owned utility doing to fix things?

And so on.

The Yukon News has a ton of these questions — and we’ll share them with you in just a second. We think they’ll provoke some thought.

Of course, we’d prefer to give you the answers.

But we can’t.

We’ve been phoning the Crown-owned power company for months.

But we haven’t received a single callback.

For the first month, we simply thought the trippy power had damaged Yukon Energy Corporation’s phones.

Dozens of calls were placed. Not one was returned. In some cases, when a warm body answered, the line cut out before a single syllable was uttered.

Strange.

So we visited their offices in person.

Janet Patterson, spokesperson for the Crown corporation, told us its officials would not be speaking to the paper any more.

Readers of the Yukon News would not learn anything more about Yukon Energy from Yukon Energy. No interviews. No news conferences. Nothing.

A news … blackout.

Of course, this is what we’ve come to expect from our utility.

Going off-grid is something that it knows something about.

It won’t provide any explanation for freezing us out. But, again, explanations have never been the utility’s strong suit.

Nevertheless, there are important questions that deserve answers.

Such as:

Why are some Yukon ratepayers paying 14 cents a kilowatt hour for substandard power when residents of BC are paying, on average, six cents per kilowatt hour?

How do you justify that cost given the quality of our power?

What, specifically, caused Thanksgiving Monday’s five-hour grid-wide outage? To date, no answer to this question has been provided.

What is the status or condition of Whitehorse dam’s fourth wheel.

What is the condition of the diesels that Yukon Energy bought from the Minto mine? Are they in operation? How efficient are they?

Where are they located?

Did testing of those diesels cause a power outage?

A group of southern experts came to Yukon to appraise the condition of the electrical grid and recent problems. Who were they?

What did they find?

What did those southern experts recommend?

What were the terms of their contract?

How much were they paid?

Was the contract sole sourced or tendered?

Has a defective governor at the utility been fixed? When? How much did that repair cost? Who did it? Why did it take so long to repair? If not, why not?

How does the utility square the increase in its diesel rider with the decrease in global fuel costs? Will it suspend the rider? When? Will it rebate users the money they’ve paid already?

By our math, a promised 15 per cent decrease in power bills is coming in at about 3.4 per cent. Why?

The utility is collecting more money as a result of recent rider tweaks. What is it doing with the money?

Is it going to build more power facilities in the Yukon? Where? When? If not, why not?

The Carcross First Nation is proposing a micro-hyrdo facility. Does the Crown-owned utility support this initiative? If not, why not?

When, specifically, was the Minto mine first hooked up to the grid? Was the mine receiving power from the grid before Premier Dennis Fentie’s news conference where he “turned on the juice?”

Of course, there are plenty more questions.

This isn’t whimsical stuff. The utility provides the power that keeps people warm in a climate that can be deadly.

But, apparently, it considers itself above accountability.

And, because it is exempt from access-to-information laws, we can’t even pursue that avenue.

We believe the utility should be transparent and accountable. We believe you deserve answers.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to ask them yourself.

You can reach Janet Patterson at 393-5333.

If you learn anything, let us know. We’ll pass the information along.

Maybe if we work together we can figure out what’s going on, and force our utility — Yukoners own it — to improve service.

We’re all in this together, dependent on the power we produce.

Our goal should be to make Yukon children wonder what happens when the power goes out.

Postscript: This morning, we discovered that BC hydro’s declared corporate purpose is to “provide reliable power, at low cost, for generations.”

Seems simple enough.

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