It’s not too late to push for more renewable energy

Anne Middler Construction of Yukon Energy's $43 million liquefied natural gas storage and electricity generating facility is complete. The Yukon Conservation Society maintains our position on this facility: that it was a bad decision and a missed opportu

COMMENTARY

by Anne Middler

Construction of Yukon Energy’s $43 million liquefied natural gas storage and electricity generating facility is complete. The Yukon Conservation Society maintains our position on this facility: that it was a bad decision and a missed opportunity that threatens to divert the Yukon away from a sustainable energy future.

We opposed this project throughout the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board and the Yukon Utilities Board review processes. We argued that the LNG facility is not appropriate for backup and will not complement efficiency and conservation programs or the addition of renewable energy. What’s more, LNG requires fracking, and the facility and its operation are more expensive and greenhouse gas intensive than the simple diesel alternative.

We recognize that fossil fuel generation is required to provide effective power restoration and emergency backup. We argued that the more responsible investment would have been two new diesel generators located in Yukon Energy’s existing diesel plant.

If our government and public utility had made the sensible diesel choice, we would have had at least a $20-million balance to take critical actions for energy security and sustainability: investments in more demand-side management (energy conservation and efficiency) and load management to reduce and shift our winter peaks, and more renewable energy to meet growing demand and electrify currently fossil-fueled sectors like space heating and transportation.

But we’re stuck with the LNG facility now. The political agenda that needed the LNG facility to move forward was a slow burn that could not be extinguished by reason and sound argument. The LNG plant will be used for backup when our hydro power is out for extended periods and when our electricity demand exceeds our renewable energy supply.

If we connect a new mine to the grid, Yukon Energy is expected to burn natural gas in its LNG facility all the time, unless renewable energy projects can be developed that compete with the displaced fuel cost of LNG – the new and unreasonable benchmark for proposed energy projects to meet the utility board’s narrow criteria for approval.

The LNG fuel is trucked from B.C.‘s lower mainland with gas sourced from northern B.C.‘s fracking fields. Because we know the devastating environmental impacts of natural gas extraction and because we know the climate impacts of methane (a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2), we need to ensure the LNG facility does not become the default base-load energy option regardless of the end use of that electricity.

It is also imperative that the LNG facility does not become fuel storage for natural gas distribution in the territory, or the justification to develop a fracking industry in the Yukon, or the reason that the Yukon does not or cannot invest in renewable energy projects.

Notwithstanding the LNG facility, we have hope for a sustainable energy future. We are confident there are smarter ways to strengthen our grid and meet our energy needs that reduce the environmental and climate harms resulting from our energy use, not make them worse.

To that end, YCS is working with energy stakeholders to find common ground and identify diverse and complementary renewable energy options that maximize local economic development opportunities without associated environmental sacrifices.

We look forward to hosting a hydro alternatives workshop at the end of September to showcase responsibly developed hydroelectricity projects in our region, and to share information about pumped hydro and seasonal storage potential that will support other renewable energy sources like wind and solar to provide firm energy in winter when we need it most.

We urge collaboration between governments, utilities, the regulator, energy stakeholders and the public to ensure that the LNG facility does not become the reason we missed out on a future of smart, responsible renewable energy.

Anne Middler is an energy analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society.

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