This winter Yukon Energy will be renting 17 portable diesel units at a cost of approximately $4.1 million, according to Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai.
That number is double the generators from last year and the cost does not include fuel.
Each year the government rents portable diesel units in order to provide a contingency plan in the event of an outage, or the scenario of the grid being maxed out. In 2019 the government rented nine diesel generators and spent $1.9 million on fuel.
“Although $4.1 million is a significant sum of money, when you are taking into consideration that you are ensuring the safety of all Yukoners on the grid, I think that it is an important investment,” Pillai said.
“Of course, with a significant rise in the economy over the last four years — even an economy that is fragile through COVID-19 but moving strongly — we are in a position where we are going to see a population increase and more demand on energy and power.”
Pillai said the reason that generators have doubled this year is because in addition to increasing usage, the generators need to cover the entire grid, at highest power usage, in order to function as an emergency backup in the case of a power failure.
He said the system no longer has much surplus during those peak times.
Pillai said Yukoners should expect electricity prices to continue to rise, but nothing as dramatic as last year.
“You’re always going to see a little bit of an increase on electrical bills going forward. Everywhere in the country, the important thing is to make sure that you manage that in an appropriate manner,” Pillai said.
As a result, last year Yukoners saw two electricity rate hikes that raised the cost in the middle of winter by an average of 11.8 per cent.
“I believe that if we had more of a visionary approach to our long-term planning when it came to energy, we wouldn’t be in this particular situation,” he said.
The current government blames that situation on previous years when the Yukon Party was in power.
According to Pillai, the previous government “ran the credit card up” and delayed matching rates to the cost of electricity.
Unsurprisingly, the Yukon Party doesn’t share the view.
“We’re a year or less away from an election and they continue to look backwards and blame the previous government for things, but we need to find a way forward,” said energy critic Scott Kent.
Kent said the quickly-growing cost of diesel generators are a concern in light of the 20-megawatt thermal power plant, which would run on fossil fuels, that was planned for the territory but cancelled by the Liberal government. He said renewable projects are still going through environmental assessments and have uncertain timelines.
“There seems to be a short-sightedness in cancelling that 20-megawatt thermal plant in favour of renting diesels that are also thermal energy going forward for the foreseeable future,” Kent said.
Pillai said the major investment in the plant would have locked the territory into heavy fossil fuel use for the life of the project.
Pillai said the government hopes to begin curbing diesel generator use over the next two years, as the government brings online renewable projects, including a nine-megawatt “micro-hydro” project, in partnership with Taku River Tlingit First Nation, that is still in the negotiation phase.
The use of temporary diesel units are predicted up to 2027-28, according to documents from the Yukon Energy Corporation.
The government’s Our Clean Future plan sets a target that in 2030 no less than 97 per cent of the electricity on Yukon’s main electricity grid will come from renewable sources.
Community-based renewable energy projects, including wind and solar projects in remote communities and the Moon Lake pump storage proect, are included in the plan.
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