Power from the people

It is odd looking back at the past summer's yelling and screaming about the possible sale of the Yukon Energy Corporation to a certain large private company.

It is odd looking back at the past summer’s yelling and screaming about the possible sale of the Yukon Energy Corporation to a certain large private company.

It seemed as if almost everyone was standing up to ensure Yukon Energy remained a publicly owned utility.

Yet just prior to all the publicity about the alleged sale discussions, one could not pick up a paper or turn on the radio without being barraged by a veritable diatribe against Yukon Energy.

At that time, citizens were angry at the utility for the non-stop power outages and were furious about the cost of power.

Then, once possible privatization rumours surfaced, everyone jumped to its defence.

Now the rumours have subsided and it does not look like the Yukon will be getting back to the familiar hate-the- corporation-but-love-the energy relationship.

That is because the Yukon is finally catching up to the rest of the 21st century and is about to enter the world of independent power production.

The Yukon government has released a draft discussion paper about independent power production and net metering.

It is inviting public feedback until January 29th.

That is when everyone will be broke from all the holiday festivities and upset over the New Year power bill, so it should be interesting to see some of the submissions.

What the discussion paper essentially boils down to is that the Yukon government is considering letting companies and individuals other than the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical Company Limited generate electricity.

This can be done in two ways.

The first concept is independent power production.

This is when a company or an individual other than a utility generates electricity for sale to utilities.

They will be dependent on the current utilities, Yukon Energy and Yukon Electrical, to purchase and distribute the power they produce.

For example, if a individual was to put up a few wind turbines on a plot of land that was suitably windy he or she could then sell the power to the utilities.

Note that the individual does not sell the power to his those who need it.

The electricity is purchased and distributed by the existing utilities and they sell it on to interested customers.

The second concept is net metering.

It allows utility customers to sell electricity they have created at home back to the grid.

Sometimes net metering customers can receive a credit for the electricity they generate.

An example would be a house that has some solar panels.

In the summer, it is possible that there could be surplus power that the house does not need.

This power might be sold to Yukon Energy or Yukon Electrical.

In the winter, all the power might used by the house, and extra power would then have to be purchased from the utilities.

In this particular case it might be possible to make a bit of money in the sunny summer months but then have to spend money to get power during the winter months.

Now one has nice mental images of hard-working Yukoners and locally owned entrepreneurial companies stepping forward with environmentally friendly, renewable-resource-oriented projects.

This is not necessarily the case, especially in the situation of independent power producers.

Depending on how the policy is developed it could be some big multinational that steps forward and decides to build a coal-fired power plant.

This would be environmentally disastrous.

A real-world example of this policy gone wrong is the case of British Columbia.

They have gone mad with rivers being dammed left, right and centre with their version of independent power projects.

The environmental impacts these projects are having are extremely negative.

Now the Yukon discussion paper does recognize that there are issues to be addressed.

In fact there are six points it wants Yukoners to respond to in regards to independent power producers and to net metering.

There are the sources of energy, the size of the projects, the grid connections, financial arrangements, regulatory framework and the role of government.

It is nice to see the Yukon government and the electrical utilities finally addressing the issue of independent power production.

If done right it could be an environmental benefit compared with the alternative of using diesel generators or constructing more dams.

If done wrong, it will be one more thing to complain about when discussing power generation in the Yukon.

Copies of the draft discussion paper can be downloaded from the Energy, Mines and Resources website at emr.gov.yk.ca.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.