The Yukon must get away from fossil fuels

Following Yukon Energy's charrette that took place earlier this month, I would like to offer my input into where the Yukon will go in the years to come. I was not able to attend the charrette because I was participating in a week-long wind/diesel workshop

Following Yukon Energy’s charrette that took place earlier this month, I would like to offer my input into where the Yukon will go in the years to come. I was not able to attend the charrette because I was participating in a week-long wind/diesel workshop in Alaska, where $50 million a year is being invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The following is my vision of the Yukon’s energy future.

We need to get away from fossil fuels. What we need to be clear about when we are planning the Yukon’s energy future is that we must find every means possible to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

And this is how we’re going to do it:

We are going to develop wind energy. We have the ability to provide at least 20 per cent of our energy needs from wind. That’s another 100 megawatts of wind farms scattered across the territory. When we have developed that amount, we will push even further because we will have found a better way to store that energy for those calm, cold, dark and dry days of winter.

Solar energy is now becoming as cheap to install as fossil fuel, thanks to the Chinese foresight of making renewable energy their priority. They are manufacturing cheaper solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies that help us make the transition away from dirty, expensive and limited oil.

Demand side management will be a combination of time-of-use electrical rates and smart meters that will control our appliances to shave those peak power hours so that we don’t have to use diesel during the winter.

Personally, I want to have a smart meter in my house that will control my hot water tank to only come on in the middle of the night when I will pay 20 per cent less than my present rate. I will also agree to pay 20 per cent more during peak hours so that I may consider using my heavy energy users at alternative cheaper power hours. I will install a large hot-water tank that I will heat electrically during the night and use it to heat my home during the daytime when I need it most. Once net-metering is resolved and the government agrees to pay more for private renewable electricity than our current rate, I will cover my roof with a solar array and sell energy to the grid.

As for new large mines throwing our energy planning out of whack, the easiest solution is to treat them for what they are Ð short-term, and high risk. These industrial customers can lease a diesel plant equipped with heat recovery from Yukon Energy.

In the summer, the mine can use our excess hydroelectricity to run its operation. During the winter when hydro becomes scarce, we turn on the diesel at the mine site and use the energy plant’s heat to also heat the mine’s buildings.

Then, when the mine shuts down, we move the diesel plant to the next mine that needs it.

The city of Whitehorse and Yukon Housing Corporation will make it law that all new homes will be built to a super-green standard, or better. All new loans and incentives for retrofits will go only for upgrading your home to super-green standards. There is absolutely no reason to build a permanent shelter with less insulation.

A super-insulated home will cost so little to heat that oil burners will no longer be economical to use. We will be better off to install a simple electric baseboard heater whose energy will come from renewable energy.

Space heating will be a priority for Yukon Energy and Yukon Electrical Company Limited as they expand their renewable energy mix. They will be converting homeowners and businesses to electric-based space heating because it will be greener than oil heating. It’s good for business. It will bring in lots of revenue to both utilities. Why import heating oil at an escalating cost when we can produce renewable electricity locally and make the economy grow meaningfully in the Yukon. Remember wind, solar, etc., and heat storage?

Biomass is a great option if it’s sized so that wood fibre is harvested sustainably. A waste-to-electricity system is not an option in the Yukon’s energy future. The stuff that can be burned should be recycled for much higher values. Plastics should be treated for re-use because it will become expensive to make plastic that is based on fossil fuels. So we need to continue getting better at recycling.

Electric vehicles are still a few years away but we should plan for them. They will become important ways of storing energy, and using renewable energy for transportation.

As for exploiting local sources of coal and natural gas (or oil), we should leave those options in the ground

until after we’ve done all of the above. We’ll use coal when we’ve run out of wood and we’re back to the stone age.

JP Pinard

Mechanical engineer, wind consultant