To squander, or not

In the face of the territory's looming power shortage, the Yukon Energy Corporation has abandoned action in favour of talk. Now, talking things out - allowing energy wonks to swap ideas before the public - is a good idea.

In the face of the territory’s looming power shortage, the Yukon Energy Corporation has abandoned action in favour of talk.

Now, talking things out – allowing energy wonks to swap ideas before the public – is a good idea. It fosters innovation and support for actions that may have been poorly understood in the past.

And this is something the energy corporation hasn’t done well in the past.

In recent years, it rammed in new turbines, power lines and even the expensive Mayo B project with little discussion.

Bam! They’re approved and underway.

The Yukon grid expansion has given us more flexibility in our energy supply.

The Mayo B development has given us a little more power – roughly 40 gigawatt hours annually for $160 million (it wasn’t a bargain).

And the territory needs a lot more power – some estimates suggest demand will increase 200 gigawatt hours in the next five years.

So, how do we get there? This is what Yukon Energy Corp. is talking about these days.

But talk can become an excuse not to act.

The territory must not fall into that trap.

The Whistle Bend subdivision makes up a large chunk of the anticipated demand.

Now, with fossil fuel prices hovering near historic highs, the Yukon’s utility does not want to be burning diesel willy-nilly. And neither do homeowners.

The utility missed the opportunity to put district heating in Whistle Bend. And it also couldn’t manage to pin down geothermal in the area prior to development.

Ask about Whistle Bend, and utility officials say, frankly, “Yeah, we dropped the ball on that one.” The message is that the opportunity has been lost.

But it hasn’t been. Not completely. Not yet.

While the development is nearly complete, not a single lot has been sold. Not a single house built.

And, because of that, there is still plenty of potential energy opportunity in Whistle Bend.

Whitehorse has decided to charge market rates for lots in the city. This jacks up the price of the new homes, protecting the red-hot market from a sudden infusion of new supply, which would, normally, depress prices.

But perhaps the city should lower the price of the lots – put them on the market at cost.

That would free up cash for developers to build ultra-efficient homes on those lots, which would blunt the energy demand of the new subdivision.

To ensure that happens, city should draft bylaws demanding a certain standard of energy efficiency in Whistle Bend. It should, of course, be well beyond the current standard.

And the initiative could go farther.

All new construction could come with a requirement it have its own autonomous solar or wind power source.

Germany and other European nations already require new constructions to have their own power sources, and that could provide a quick template for us.

An easier alternative would be to require all homes to have a heat-exchange system, like those already working in some Whitehorse homes.

Again, these initiatives wouldn’t be an ideal fix. But it would curb power demand in the city.

With oil prices expected to jump to $150 a barrel, and beyond, in the coming years, every kilowatt generated, every litre of oil saved helps the homeowner, the utility and the territory.

Sure, there would be problems with supply and maintenance of such residential power generators.

They are often sophisticated, require maintenance and some might not function well in our winters – there are many potential snags.

But it would also provide opportunities for new businesses and clever entrepreneurs.

And by lowering the price of the housing lots, you create financial room for experimentation. Provided the respective governments ensure the saved money goes to such projects.

The houses would be more expensive, protecting the existing market. But they would probably be more appealing because of their efficiency.

Society learns from doing. First -generation projects would lead to improvements and second-generation technology.

We can talk about such things. We should talk about such things – heck, we are talking right now.

But Yukon society shouldn’t use talk as an excuse to delay action.

The territory faces an energy crisis – short supply and, worse, threatened by enormous increases in diesel prices.

We are about to build hundreds of houses. There is a huge opportunity there, still.

We can simply squander that chance. Or not.

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