The advantage of developing government policy in the Yukon is that because the territory is so far behind other jurisdictions it can learn from their mistakes.
On some issues it could be recommended that when the airplane from Vancouver touches down in Whitehorse passengers should be advised to turn their watches back 10 years.
As an example of this, the Yukon government’s discussion paper on independent power producers and net metering springs to mind.
Most other Canadian jurisdictions already have policies and program in place.
Sometimes, though, there is an advantage to being behind the times.
It means the Yukon can learn from other jurisdictions mistakes on these two rather obscure but important subjects of electrical generation.
Independent power production happens when an individual or company, but not a utility such as Yukon Energy, generates electricity and sells it to the utility.
An example would be a company that puts up a bunch of wind turbines in a field.
They would sell the electricity to Yukon Energy who would then distribute it as they see fit.
Net metering happens when electricity customers feed surplus electricity from their homes or businesses back to the grid.
An example of this would be a house with solar panels on it.
During certain times of the summer, it might generate more power than the house uses and that surplus power could then be fed into the electrical grid for others to use.
The house would then be credited this small amount of power typically by having its metre run backwards or by installing a second metre to record the power that flows out of the house, as opposed to into it.
Over the course of a year the house would still have to pay for electricity but this cost would be partially offset by the small amount it contributed to the grid in the summer months.
There are some advantages, and some disadvantages, to both independent power production and net metering.
The advantages include letting the populace being able to create some electrical power of their own.
The disadvantage is that these projects tend not to generate much power and will provide only a small fraction of the Yukon’s current energy needs.
There is also the implication of privatizing energy resources to a multitude of companies and individuals.
Currently, the Yukon has the publicly owned Yukon Energy Corporation and the privately owned Yukon Electrical Company Ltd.
Between them they own and manage the Yukon electrical grid.
From an electrical generating perspective the grid has a capacity of about 140 megawatts.
About half of it comes from hydro and half from diesel generators.
In the winter it gets close to maxing out.
This is part of the reason more power generating projects are constantly being touted.
It is also the reason there is a policy paper about independent power producers and net metering floating about.
But there is a problem with the amount of electrical power they will produce.
Typical net metering projects are doing well if they can generate a few kilowatts of surplus power.
Independent power producers can also be small, although it does differ between jurisdictions.
According to the Yukon discussion power on this subject it looks like half a megawatt will be the limit of these projects.
They will not come even close to meeting the energy needs of all the proposed mines on the horizon.
For example, the Carmacks Copper project will probably require about seven mega-watts of power.
The Casino project, should it ever come on stream, might need one hundred mega-watts of power.
If the Yukon electrical grid cannot provide the needed power the mines will create their own using diesel generators.
This will vastly increase the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the Yukon will be responsible for.
It is telling that the Yukon government is developing this policy, which will not provide much power, yet it will not develop a mining power-use policy.
A mining policy could examine Yukon’s electrical grid capacity and possibly limit the number of mines to the size of the grid.
Another disadvantage of independent power producers is that they can be extremely environmentally harmful.
For that one need look no further than British Columbia.
There many small rivers and streams, most of them critical fish habitat, have been dammed and disturbed for hydro projects.
While they are owned and operated by independent power producers, and they are hydro projects, the environmental damage has been catastrophic.
Now it must be recognized that what has happened in British Columbia might not apply in the Yukon.
In British Columbia most of these projects were either exempt from or subject to very lax environmental assessments.
Their grid is connected to the rest of North America it is strongly suspected that the power these projects generate will be exported to other jurisdictions in order to generate revenue for the British Columbia’s utilities.
To learn more, check out a talk by John Calvert about the problems resulting from Independent Power producers in British Columbia.
Calvert will be speaking about the sell-off of energy resources to the private sector, and the disastrous implications it has had for local residents.
The talk is being held today, Friday January 22nd, at 7 p.m. at Hellaby Hall in Whitehorse.
It is hoped that the message in his talk will be heeded by the Yukon government as it develops a Yukon policy on independent power producers and net metering.
It might be worth reading the Yukon’s draft discussion paper on this subject and seeing what safeguards could be put in place to prevent the British Columbian experience.
Copies of the draft discussion paper can be downloaded from the Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources website at emr.gov.yk.ca.
Deadline for submitting comments on it is January 29th.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.