The mute minister

Once again, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang is refusing to talk. Lang is ducking questions about a troubling Yukon Utilities Board…

Once again, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang is refusing to talk.

Lang is ducking questions about a troubling Yukon Utilities Board decision.

This week, the board turned down a proposed power-purchase agreement between Yukon Energy Corporation and Sherwood Copper, owner of the Minto mine.

The loss of that deal calls into question a lot of expensive capital projects the utility is planning.

And Lang isn’t the only person rendered mute by the board’s decision.

Joining Lang in the cone of silence are two other major players in the story.

The first, Energy Corp. president David Morrison. He’s in Vancouver and unavailable for comment, as he has been of late whenever the Utilities Board has delivered a significant verdict.

The second, Sherwood president Stephen Quin, is away in Europe.

At the very least, Morrison and Lang should be prepared to soothe Yukoners’ fears about the potentially failed hydro line project in the aftermath of the board’s decision.

Consider the public money that’s at stake.

The proposed transmission line extension to Pelly Crossing and mine connection is expected to cost the public — you — $24 million.

Under the now-endangered power deal, Sherwood agreed to pay ratepayers back about $7 million and to buy $24 million of Yukon electricity by 2016. If it didn’t, it was to simply pay $24 million.

In exchange, YEC offered to build the power lines on credit for Sherwood. It also offered the industrial customer a fixed power rate — one that wouldn’t be affected by changes in the market.

And it agreed to buy four battered, high-speed diesel generators at the mine for $2.24 million.

It also offered hydro power, which would cost an estimated $4 million less than diesel, to the electricity-hungry copper mine.

Lang and Morrison were so sure the deal was in the bag that they started proceeding with ambitious capital plans before this week’s board decision.

Recently, Lang and the Yukon Party cabinet announced $10 million for the power line extension, but didn’t bother to put it in this year’s budget.

The Crown-owned YEC has already commissioned an Ontario firm to do pre-design work on the transmission line for $450,000.

The recent $5 million investment to build a third turbine at Aishihik Lake also appears to hang in the balance following Monday’s decision.

As Environment Minister Dennis Fentie has noted, the grid extension to Pelly will take the community off diesel generators and reduce carbon emissions by about 1,400 tonnes per year.

The Minto mine will create an estimated 20,000 tonnes of carbon per year using diesel generators, he said.

Connect both to the hydroelectric grid and those emissions disappear.

That’s how the $5 million project was sold to tap a federal climate-change grant.

The Energy Corp. has argued the power deal with Minto is needed because they currently have surplus electricity.

Every month, surplus power flowing over the dam costs ratepayers $250,000, said energy officials.

Here’s the tricky question: If the deal with Sherwood sinks, will that shiny new $5-million turbine — built to reduce our carbon emissions — even be used?

Add to the growing tally the government’s recent announcement to sink $200,000 into Sherwood’s coffers to aid with further mineral exploration at Minto.

The total comes to more than $15 million of public money now on the line.

And still, Lang won’t talk. (TQ)