Documentary stirs Yukon energy debate

Charles Wilkinson's film, Peace Out, was voted best documentary at the Yukon's Available Light Film Festival. If there had been an award for best post-screening discussion, it probably would have won that too.

Charles Wilkinson’s film, Peace Out, was voted best documentary at the Yukon’s Available Light Film Festival.

If there had been an award for best post-screening discussion, it probably would have won that too.

The film, which paints a bleak picture of how the insatiable thirst for energy is driving the world to the brink of ecological disaster, sparked an energetic and decidedly more positive post-screening discussion when it was shown in Whitehorse Friday night.

Immediately after the film, David Morrison, president and CEO of the Yukon Energy Corporation, and J.P. Pinard, a wind energy expert, joined Wilkinson on stage to talk about it.

“We have a huge opportunity here to do things differently,” said Pinard. “There’s lots of room to develop clean energy in this territory.”

But, he warned, it won’t happen unless people demand it.

“That $50 million for Alaska renewable energy didn’t happen by accident,” said Pinard. “It has to be law and has to be regulated.”

With new mines poised to come online and the projected growth in the Yukon’s population, the territory will soon face a shortage of electricity.

About 10 new gigawatts of electricity will be needed just for the new Whistle Bend subdivision, said Morrison.

The vast majority of new construction in the territory uses electric heat, if that trend continues in Whistle Bend, Morrison said the energy needs for the subdivision could double.

But even that is a drop in the energy bucket compared to the projected demand for power from the mining sector.

According to Yukon Energy’s estimates, the territory will need 237 more gigawatt hours per year by 2015.

No matter how that energy is generated, there will be trade-offs, said Morrison.

“Sustainability, to me, is the really important part,” he said.

A big focus for Yukon Energy in the near term is to work to get people to use energy more efficiently. That’s called demand side management.

The utility has already started to work on making its own offices and facilities more efficient, said Morrison.

“We’re not going to change overnight but we have to start somewhere,” he said.

It’s also going to be starting programs in schools throughout the territory.

“We’re going to sic your kids on you,” Morrison said. “When they start guilting, it’s hard not to listen.”

That’s what motivates Wilkinson to curb some of his own energy consumption.

“I don’t want my descendants to be ashamed of me,” the film director said. “My kids are so cool, I don’t want them to hate me.”

One startling fact he uncovered that didn’t make it into the film is that approximately 92 per cent of all energy used is wasted.

“With today’s technology we could get up to 30 or

40 per cent efficiency,” he said. Making that change will take a great deal of political will, something that Wilkinson doesn’t see on the horizon considering that energy is such a big business in Canada. Oil and gas alone account for 25 per cent of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

“With all respect to government, their hands are tied by the people that pay the bills, the corporations,” said Wilkinson. “We like to do it fast and we like to do it dirty.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com