Could the Yukon be connecting its electrical grid to the outside world anytime soon?
Premier Dennis Fentie dropped a few hints last week during a news conference with the new governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell.
“It makes sense for us to look into (energy) matters jointly because there may be some benefits that we can develop on a cross-border basis,” said Fentie on Friday afternoon.
“The options are available there in co-ordinating infrastructure development and we talked about workforce training,” said Parnell, a former oil company lobbyist and lawyer.
“That said, there was also a discussion on a North-South focus that should come into play here, and the need for us to go beyond the state of Alaska and the territory but also engage the province of British Columbia and the province of Alberta on the energy matter,” said Fentie.
“In Canada, right now there’s a great deal of East-West focus but very little North-South focus,” he said.
The leaders didn’t get any more specific.
That’s intentional, said Gene Therriault, a senior policy advisor on in-state energy for Parnell.
While there are some power shortages and surpluses in Alaska near the Yukon border, there are no plans for inter-connection in the near-term, said Therriault.
Skagway’s hydro dam currently has too much power and the district is considering a new 10 to 20 megawatt project, he said.
That power could one day be exported to Whitehorse but no plans have been made to explore a cross-border discussion, he said.
Haines, which is connected to Skagway with a submarine power cable, currently has a power shortage.
Alaska would probably want to connect Haines to the Yukon grid before connecting Skagway, said Therriault.
The Railbelt region, which encompasses Anchorage and Fairbanks in central mainland Alaska, recently finished a study of its energy resources.
It is the busiest industrial area in the state and has six different utilities operating. All desperately need to diversify their energy sources.
Alaska is considering legislation that would create the Greater Railbelt Electrical Transmission Corporation, an amalgam of the six utilities that would make interconnection and diversification easier.
That kind of regional assessment may one day be done in the Panhandle as well, which could involve talks with the Yukon, said Therriault.
Parnell has made a budget request for funds to study the regional energy needs in the Panhandle, and if it survives the budget process, the Yukon and British Columbia could be called to discuss common ground on energy construction projects, he said.
Northwestern British Columbia is already going through an energy makeover, and the Yukon is testing the waters for a possible connection south.
Archie Lang, who was Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources minister before a cabinet shuffle last week, told mining executives at the Vancouver Mineral Roundup in January the Yukon might link to BC’s power grid, said Carl Schulze, the president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
Lang refused to be interviewed for this story.
However, BC is extending its power grid north in the next few years.
The province is moving ahead with the Northwestern Transmission Line, which will connect Bob Quinn Lake, a community halfway up the Cassiar Highway, with Stewart.
The line, which will be a 287-kilovolt line stretching 335 kilometres, is meant to service multiple potential mines in the region, including the Red Chris mine at the headwaters of the Stikine and Iskut Rivers.
Ottawa announced $130 million for the project from its Green Infrastructure Fund in September, and the province has pledged $250 million. The private sector is supposed to fill in the rest, but no funding deals have been finalized.
The total cost is estimated at $450 million.
While touted as a green project, the grid won’t take any communities off diesel except tiny Bob Quinn Lake, according to research by the Tyee, a web-based newspaper.
The Mount Klappan coal mine at the head of the Klappan River is also expected to benefit from the new line’s power.
The transmission line is moving through the regulatory process, and it is currently under review by the BC Environmental Assessment Office. Completion is slated for 2012.
The northern expansion of BC’s grid raises the prospect of a connection with the Yukon one day.
“Yukon Energy would love to be able to connect to the BC grid,” Janet Patterson, Yukon Energy spokesperson, said in an e-mail.
“However, even with a transmission line to Bob Quinn Lake, it is still cost prohibitive for us to do so,” she said.
Yukon Energy estimates the connection to Bob Quinn would cost more than $1 billion.
“If BC Hydro were to build the line as far as Dease Lake, then it might be feasible for us to look at connecting to the North American grid,” she said.
Dease Lake is more than 150 kilometres north of Bob Quinn Lake.
Yukon Energy’s president, David Morrison, spoke with BC Hydro in 2009 on whether the province was expanding north of Bob Quinn, but nothing is in the works any time soon, said Patterson.
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