New Democrat Leader Liz Hanson recently unveiled her energy platform.
While it contains some nice sentiment, the plan falls far short of meeting the territory’s energy needs into the next decade.
The plan is simple, to the point of being dim.
One wonders, in fact, if any hard thought was put into it at all.
The New Democrats want to limit the generation of dirty, fossil-fuel-powered energy and expand the territory’s use of renewables.
It sounds good. Who doesn’t want to tap clean energy before the dirty stuff?
But wishing to do something won’t turn on your TV or power the next copper mine.
A few months ago, Yukon Energy held a series of meetings on power at Mt. McIntyre.
There, experts discussed biomass energy, thermal, diesel, geothermal, wind, waste-to-energy, natural gas, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric … a dizzying mix of options.
Some were clean, some were dirty but not as dirty as other alternatives. Some were awful, but cheap and easy. And that’s the key to this whole problem.
They were all part of the solution.
There is no silver bullet.
This society consumes power like no other. Demand-side management will lessen the problem, but it won’t solve it.
We have to burn diesel, but it is far too expensive and environmentally damaging to meet our needs for long.
The Japanese Fukishima reactor disaster has blunted enthusiasm for nuclear, but it remains a viable and essential energy source for Western nations.
Geothermal may work in some areas. So will building solar and other small-scale projects into public buildings and homes.
But none of these will be a complete solution in themselves.
We are currently a hydro-powered jurisdiction, and it is deeply rooted in our history. But that’s only because Ottawa invested in expensive hydro infrastructure. The territory could never have built it on its own.
And there, nothing has changed. Except the demand.
We are now in the situation where our power needs are starting to outstrip the supply largely built by Ottawa 60 years ago.
The NDP plan promises to keep the utility locally owned and it talks in ambiguous terms about investments in generation and transmission to meet demand and stop outages.
But it is short of specifics. And its singleminded focus on renewables and local ownership is naive.
Our society needs power, and, because of our geographic location, we require more of it, per capita, than most southern regions.
The territory can dink around with small-scale stopgaps and conservation, and talk platitudes, but northerners are energy pigs.
If we’re going to live here, growing our population and economy, we need power. A lot more than we currently produce.
It will take generous investment from the federal government and our provincial neighbours to meet our residential and industrial demand into the future. We can’t afford to do it on our own.
Ignoring this reality is what we’ve done for years. And it’s not going to solve anything.
We ignored the housing problem for more than eight years, and look where it got us.
At some point, and probably sooner rather than later, the territory is going to have to join the North American grid. And, yes, that is going to have profound implications for the future of our little energy utility and, ultimately, our territory.
It may take investment with ATCO. It may involve a few billions in federal investment.
The Fentie government poisoned the issue by sneaking around, violating the public trust by negotiating in secret. But that doesn’t mean exploring alternatives to the current model, in full view of the public, doesn’t have merit.
We should start discussing the ramifications openly and candidly – immediately.
The territory faces a very grave power crisis, one more complicated and with far greater ramifications than the current housing problem.
Contrary to the NDP plan, the sooner society starts weighing the hard choices, and there are many – nuclear, diesel, biomass, waste heat, natural gas, tapping the southern grid or simply reverting to a 1890 society with woodstoves, steamboats and kerosene lamps – the faster the territory’s looming energy crisis will be alleviated.