Government plans for new hydro

When it comes to questions in the Yukon legislature, the territory's three political parties don't often agree on much. Except, it seems, the need for more hydropower.

When it comes to questions in the Yukon legislature, the territory’s three political parties don’t often agree on much.

Except, it seems, the need for more hydropower.

Last week the territorial cabinet directed the Yukon Development Corporation to start planning for a new hydro project in the territory.

As Energy Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent explained, the corporation has 90 days to map out how it will do the planning.

“The direction we’ve given to the development corporation is to look at a project that is probably 10 to 15 years away, so it’s probably going to be a larger scale hydro project,” Kent said.

The territory is sorely in need of more power, and the demand is only expected to increase as many of the newer homes going up in the Yukon are heated with electric heat, Kent said.

“We support renewable energy, and we approve of long-term plans. We’re pleased that the Yukon Party has finally seen the importance of it,” said the NDP’s energy critic Jim Tredger, though he did question the government’s track record of consulting with First Nations.

The Liberals are also happy with the move, but wary about the Yukon Party’s ability to manage major capital projects, especially after the considerable problems that have emerged with plans to build a replacement of F.H. Collins school and to build new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

“We’ve been calling for this since I got elected,” said interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver.

“We 100 per cent support hydro expansion, and we 100 per cent support any type of renewable energy initiative that decreases our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said.

Kent wouldn’t speculate on how much the plans might cost, preferring to wait until the development corp. has submitted its initial work plan three months from now.

He said the government will cover the cost of the initial work plan, and will look for other funding resources to cover the rest of the research and design so that the territory’s ratepayers aren’t on the hook for it.

Kent also wouldn’t say what sites might be considered in the planning for new hydro, only that it will be substantial. In the meantime, the territory will still have to find other incremental ways to offset rising power demands.

“We’re going to have to do other things to meet the incremental demand as we move forward. Projects like West Creek (outside Skagway, Alaska) or other smaller scale hydro projects along that Alaska power corridor are options, depending on what Yukon Energy does within its 20 year plan,” Kent said.

That 20-year resource plan identifies a number of potential options ranging from relatively small projects on Moon Lake or the Tutshi River, which would yield around five megawatts and cost around $130 million, up to a $2.5 billion, 300-megawatt monster at Fraser Falls on the Stewart River.

But there are some challenges.

The boom-bust cycle of mining at the whim of the markets can make it difficult to predict exactly how much power the territory will need.

The territory’s isolated power grid also makes planning for power generation a finicky business. If the government doesn’t have enough energy cards in the deck, it could get caught by a sudden spike in demand and be forced to fall back on expensive diesel generation to make up the shortfall. But if the government overbuilds and ends up with a surplus of power in the grid, there is no one to sell that extra power to because our grid doesn’t connect anywhere outside the territory. That means the Yukon ratepayers end up paying for power they don’t need.

Earlier this fall Kent and Environment Minister Currie Dixon signed a deal with Alaska to study the feasibility of a power grid connection to Skagway. If it works, that would allow the Yukon to sell some of its excess power to the American port in the summer. It could also allow for a small-scale power station at West Creek, which would bolster the power portfolio.

But Skagway’s power demands peak in the summer when cruise ships are in port, and even then the community isn’t likely to buy enough power to offset serious overproduction in the Yukon.

The only likely answer to that is a grid connection to B.C. That would allow the Yukon the safety to build enough power to cover its highest demand peaks, and sell off its excess down south when the market slumps.

At an estimated cost of more than $1 billion, a B.C. connection is expensive, but that’s still something that interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver wants to see more of a focus on.

“If you had private industry that wanted to look at building a wind farm or something like that, having a connection to B.C. would allow them the flexibility to do it, because they could sell their extra power to a larger market,” Silver said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 27, 2020

Premier Sandy Silver during a live update on the COVID-19 situation at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Total Yukon COVID case count increased to 42 cases

Premier urges patience after national meeting on vaccine roll-out

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Most Read