The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board is recommending the territory approve Yukon Energy’s plans to replace two diesel generators with ones that burn natural gas.
The board released its screening report for the project this week. It says that, with the proper protections in place, the changes could safely move forward.
If it’s approved, the project will replace two diesel thermal units scheduled for retirement in 2014 and 2015.
The executive committee ruled “the project will have significant adverse environmental and/or socio-economic effects in Yukon,” but it said those that can be mitigated.
It is recommending the project proceed subject to 13 conditions. These include everything from monitoring greenhouse gases and air quality, to ensuring the proper training for employees, to developing an emergency plan in case something goes wrong.
The board estimates the project could save taxpayers $63 million compared to buying a new diesel alternative.
The issue of the new generators has received a lot of public attention.
Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the assessment board, said that’s why the board brought in “the best consultants that did this type of work” to review the project.
“When we received over 150 really thoughtful and considered and professional public comments, then as a result of our public meeting which over 100 people attended, we saw that the economics, the air quality and safety were the major concerns of the public,” he said.
Many of the recommendations have to do with public safety in the event of a major spill of liquefied natural gas in the Yukon.
According to the assessment board’s recommendations, Yukon Energy should, with the fire marshal’s office, “develop a comprehensive plan for responding to an LNG accident anywhere along the transportation route through Yukon.”
That would include consulting with Transport Canada to calculate how large a distance would have to be evacuated in the event of a major spill or fire.
Safety also has to be considered when it comes to transporting the LNG, McKinnon said.
“The safety of the transfer from the trucks to the tanks has to be given top concern. It’s one of the most significant areas of safety, right at the handling of the LNG from the tanker to the tank.”
Yukon Energy “shall conduct a risk analysis of all potential hazards associated with the transfer, storage and handling of LNG and natural gas at the power station. The analysis shall address all potential risks to personnel and to the public,” the document says.
The Yukon Conservation Society has been a vocal opponent to these plans. Energy Coordinator Anne Middler said the society is disappointed with the decision.
If the board had chosen to include the fuel in its assessment it would have come to a very different conclusion, she said.
Conservationists had asked assessors to look at the upstream impacts of natural gas use, including extraction, processing, liquefaction and transportation.
But the board declined the request, saying that what happens before the fuel gets to the Yukon border is not within its jurisdiction.
“This LNG facility is nothing without a feedstock, without the fuel. So we said it was an integral part of the project so the fuel must also be assessed,” Middler said.
“If they’d looked at the fuel, the liquefied natural gas, the fact that it requires fracking to extract, the fact that that has a myriad of impacts on land, air, water, wildlife and communities… We have no doubt they would have come to a different conclusion. But they chose not to look at that.”
Middler called the focus on safety risks a “vast improvement” over the draft that was released in March.
She points to part of the decision that reads: “given the proximity of the site to people and infrastructure, the executive committee does not share (Yukon Energy’s) view that simply meeting legislative, regulatory and code requirements is enough.”
It goes on to say that Yukon ENergy “has not conclusively demonstrated that its proposed conceptual design and layout will even meet all requirements” of national standards.
Serious safety issues have been raised, Middler said. The conservation society will continue to push the government not to go forward with the plan.
“This report just reinforces our position that this is a bad project. It’s got too many risks to public safety,” she said.
“We know in the broader sense that it is a bad project environmentally, socially and economically to be sure. Now, what this report has done is brought to the fore huge public safety concerns.
“With the truck transportation, with the LNG handling, with the off-loading, with the storage, with its location and proximity to the dam and the power canal and five schools and the airport and all of these things.”
The Yukon government has 60 days to make a decision.
Contact Ashley Joannou at