Power to the people

There has been some talk of late regarding the future of the Yukon Energy Corporation. Much of the gossip has centred around whether the corporation should be privatized.

There has been some talk of late regarding the future of the Yukon Energy Corporation.

Much of the gossip has centred around whether the corporation should be privatized.

No doubt the left wingers among us are already trotting out the old slogans in opposition to this.

Power to the people springs to mind.

They are actually missing the point on this.

The power in question has actually been created by the people, or at least their tax dollars.

From the Aishihik Dam to the electrical distribution lines they have all been paid for by taxpayers.

To blithely hand them over to a private corporation, no matter what price was paid, would be the height of folly.

Here is why.

Having Yukoners own their source of electrical power means long-term strategies can be easily applied to power planning decisions.

Two initiatives that spring to mind are the Yukon government’s Climate Change Strategy and the Energy Strategy.

It is far simpler for government strategies to be applied to publicly owned companies than to private corporations.

With the Yukon retaining control of how electrical power is created and distributed it is easier to influence not only how existing infrastructure is managed, but also how future infrastructure can be developed.

A privatized electrical generating company would have different priorities.

If the private company were paid to provide cheap power to the Yukon they would most likely choose the cheapest, at least from their perspective, financial option.

This could mean diesel would be burnt to power generators and long-term planning would probably consist of developing a coal plant.

The greenhouse-gas implications would be horrendous.

Having a public-owned utility responsible for not only current power generation, but also planning for future power generation ensures Yukoners can have input at every step of the process.

This ensures Yukon values are reflected, and not just the values of the shareholders of the private company.

This columnist likes to think Yukon values include considering the future environmental cost of doing things that do not currently have a fiscal cost associated with them, such as greenhouse gas emissions.

Now this column is not in praise of the Yukon Energy Corporation.

There are many reasons for the average electrical consumer to not like Yukon Energy, from inconsistent power supply to lack of initiatives regarding green power such as wind turbines and independent power producers.

All these points of dissent do not justify selling it off.

In fact, if anything, the privatization talks do raise one interesting point.

It does seem odd that given the size, population and power demand within the Yukon territory there is both Yukon Energy and Yukon Electrical.

Yukon Energy produces and transmits most of the Yukon’s electricity. It is a publicly-owned company, essentially a Crown corporation.

The Yukon Electrical Company buys electricity from Yukon Energy and then sells it to customers.

It is a privately owned company of the ATCO Corporation in Alberta.

There is something to be said for having one entity do the functions of both producing the power and selling it to customers.

It might be possible to raise efficiencies and thus lower costs.

But here is the catch.

If the current Yukon government is considering privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation in order to allegedly achieve these efficiencies, it also has a duty to consider all alternatives.

An alternative is nationalization of the Yukon Electrical Company Limited.

Efficiencies and lower costs could no doubt be achieved if Yukon Energy took over Yukon Electrical.

This would mean Yukon Energy absorbing the functions of Yukon Electrical.

It would have to pay to do this, but it probably would not cost that much.

Even on an ideological level it could be acceptable.

In these days of government buyouts and financial injections into private corporations these thoughts are not out of line for a right-wing government.

So by all means let the Yukon government consider improving the efficiencies of electrical generation and distribution within the territory.

The important thing is for the government to consider all possible options, including the takeover of Yukon Electrical by the Yukon Energy Corporation.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse

based part-time environmentalist.

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