Don’t be cynical: Yukon Energy

Yukon Energy Corporation president David Morrison has had "a road-to-Damascus moment." At least, that's what Stuart Hickox thinks. The energy-saving pundit is in Whitehorse to promote the utility's upcoming charette.

Yukon Energy Corporation president David Morrison has had “a road-to-Damascus moment.”

At least, that’s what Stuart Hickox thinks.

The energy-saving pundit is in Whitehorse to promote the utility’s upcoming charette.

He’s not getting paid to be here.

But the Crown corporation is covering his costs.

It’s not the first time Hickox has been to Whitehorse.

Four years ago, he brought a bunch of fluorescent light bulbs to give out as part of his porch-light campaign.

“Changing one 60-watt bulb for a 13-watt compact fluorescent is the equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the road,” said Hickox.

Last time he came, the Energy Solutions Centre footed the bill.

It was Hickox’s first venture outside Ottawa and he was worried about public interest in his light-bulb campaign.

But Yukoners bit and Whitehorse saw 10,000 compact fluorescents installed.

Yukon Energy had nothing to do with it, said Hickox.

But four years later, he got a call from the corporation officials.

The territory is fast running out of power and Yukon Energy needs help.

So it turned to Hickox.

“Now they have an incentive to use us,” said Hickox, who is the founder of One Change, an Ottawa-based nonprofit that encourages individuals to make a difference.

“I’m here to encourage people to show up to (Yukon Energy’s) charette.”

Hickox’s shtick is simple – save power by using fluorescent bulbs.

“And why are there ice cubes in the Yukon?” he said, stirring them around in a glass of water on the table at the Westmark.

“Why are we freezing stuff indoors when it’s so cold outdoors?”

Yukoners need to cut back on power use, said Hickox.

“But that’s not going to solve the problem,” he added.

In the next five years, Yukon Energy is projecting it will need to rustle up an additional 200 gigawatt hours of power.

Currently, the grid is capable of supplying the territory with 375 gigawatt hours.

A host of new mines are largely responsible for the energy spike, including Victoria Gold, which is already working with Yukon Energy to suck 100 gigawatt hours of power from the grid by 2013.

Mines pay less for power than residential customers in the Yukon.

Industrial customers, like Alexco and Minto, pay 10 cents a kilowatt hour for power while residential customers pay 13 cents a kilowatt hour.

Hickox didn’t know this.

Then, he warned one shouldn’t be “so cynical.”

Yukon Energy is holding this three-day public charette in March because it genuinely wants to hear from people, he said.

It’s great that the utility is finally having a discussion with the public, said former energy minister Don Roberts, who attended a public information session on the charette Thursday night.

“But this discussion should have happened eight years ago,” he said.

For years, Yukon Energy has known it’s running out of power, said Roberts, who used to work with Morrison when he was acting as an energy consultant and Roberts was minister.

“So if it really wanted the public involved from the beginning, why wait until an election year?

“It’s hard not to be cynical.”

At the start of the evening, Hickox told the crowd at Mt. McIntyre rec centre not to be cynical, a mantra he seems to fall back on whenever a tough question comes up.

“It’s easy for a guy who’s not from here and doesn’t know the history here to walk around and say, ‘Don’t be so cynical,’” said Roberts.

“But our whole future is being thrown into a quandary.”

Roberts had one question for Morrison: If we’re running out of power, why is Yukon Energy loaning money to mining companies to help them buy into the grid?

He didn’t get a clear answer.

Morrison told Roberts it was Yukon Energy’s responsibility to supply the mines with power just like any other customer.

But the Public Utilities Act only states the utility must supply power to potential customers who are tied into the grid.

Mines that aren’t yet tied into the grid are a very different matter, said Roberts.

Mines are very different beasts, said Peter Percival, who was also at the Thursday evening meeting.

Mines are a high-risk customer, he said.

“They’re good customers when they’re online, but they are big risks when they go offline – especially if we’ve made big investments to provide them with energy.”

Mines’ power rates should be tailored to cover those risks, said Percival.

“It’s like life insurance, if you’re at a greater risk, you pay a higher premium.”

As a longtime intervener in the Yukon Utility Board process and as chair of the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, Percival thought he might be invited to participate in Yukon Energy’s upcoming charette.

But no invitation arrived.

So on Thursday, Percival asked Morrison why he wasn’t invited to participate.

You’re too cynical, Morrison told Percival.

“David (Morrison) wants to hear from people who don’t agree with him,” said Hickox earlier in the day.

“I’ve met a lot of CEOs of energy corporations in the last five years, and a lot don’t walk the talk,” he added.

“But I don’t get that impression from (Morrison).

“And if I suspected this charette was just a trumped-up PR stunt, I would tell you.”

“I’d like to think Yukon Energy is truly interested in openness, honesty and transparency,” said Roberts.

“But isn’t it ironic this is all happening in an election year and our rate increases are being put off until next year, after the election?

“There’s that cynicism again.”

Yukon Energy may have to tie into BC to get enough power to feed the territory’s growing demand, said Hickox.

“There is more demand than supply and there are some hard choices to be made, because we can’t just get power out of nowhere.”

But individual people can make a difference, he said.

“Simple actions matter – people need to show up, go to the charette and give it a chance.”

However, the charette is only going to be open to the public for two hours each evening.

During the day, discussions will take place between roughly 80 experts from a wide cross section of the Yukon, said Yukon Energy spokesperson Janet Patterson.

The upshot of those discussions will be charted on the wall for the public to peruse when the doors are unlocked each evening.

The invitation list is not finalized, added Patterson, who’d just spoken with Percival this morning.

“And Peter Percival is going to be invited,” she said.

Yukon Energy’s charette is running from March 7 through 9. For more information on go to: http://www.yukonenergy.ca/letstalk/energy_charrette/.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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