Atlin hydro company hopes to connect to Yukon grid

The company that owns and operates a micro-hydro project in Atlin, B.C. is hoping to one day sell power into the Yukon grid.

The company that owns and operates a micro-hydro project in Atlin, B.C. is hoping to one day sell power into the Yukon grid.

Peter Kirby, president of XEITL Limited Partnership, an independent power producer owned by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, discussed his plans during the inaugural Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Whitehorse in February.

Kirby said Yukon Energy is keen on supplying most of its power from renewable sources, and the Atlin hydro project would “fit nicely into their profile.”

It’s an ambitious plan. Atlin’s 2.1 megawatt micro-hydro project came online in 2009, ending the community’s dependence on diesel generators.

To sell power into the Yukon grid, XEITL would need to expand its existing plant to a capacity of up to five megawatts.

But the real challenge would be the 94-kilometre transmission line required between Atlin and Jakes Corner on the Alaska Highway, which Kirby said would have to be paid for in part by the federal government.

“The cost of constructing a generating facility and connecting it to the Yukon grid is too much for it to be paid for with the current rates that customers pay,” he said. “And so what needs to happen is a federal government subsidy that would allow the finance costs to be low enough to fit into what the end user pays for electricity.”

XEITL has been floating the idea of selling power to the Yukon since the Atlin hydro project launched eight years ago. Back in 2009, Yukon Energy told the News it wasn’t interested in building a transmission line to Atlin for such a small amount of power.

But these days, the utility’s tune has changed a little. Yukon Energy’s draft resource plan for the next 20 years, now available on its website, includes small hydro projects as one of its planned sources of energy after 2023.

Yukon Energy president Andrew Hall said the utility has studied the Atlin project as a possible power producer.

“It is a viable option,” he said. “We’re certainly monitoring what’s going on there.”

But he agreed with Kirby that most of the cost of the transmission line, which he estimates at $54 million, would have to come from government. He also said upgrades would likely be needed to the 80 kilometres of existing line between Jakes Corner and Whitehorse, which would have a similar price tag.

He said the new line between Jakes Corner and Atlin would solely service the Atlin project, though the upgrades to the existing line would help strengthen the whole southern grid.

“It’s usually tough to pass those costs on to ratepayers,” he said.

Hall said the viability of the project would also depend on the price XEITL asks for its power as an independent producer. The Yukon government unveiled its independent power production policy in 2015, but Yukon Energy has yet to negotiate any agreements.

“It hasn’t really been implemented thus far,” Hall said.

XEITL is currently working to finance a feasibility study of the expansion, which Kirby estimates will take a couple of years and cost about $2 million.

He said the whole project could be complete in four to six years.

Kirby believes the Atlin hydro project is a good fit for the Yukon, in part because he estimates it would reduce the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions by 14,000 tonnes annually.

“Atlin is really part of the Yukon, certainly socially, economically. We buy all our goods and services from the Yukon,” he said. “We’re all part of the same pot here, so to speak, in terms of our abilities to work together to reduce greenhouse gases.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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