The Yukon Conservation Society is urging Yukoners to not take lightly Yukon Energy’s plan to start burning liquefied natural gas.
“This is huge,” said Anne Middler, the society’s energy co-ordinator. “This is a real turning point in the Yukon’s ability to sustain ourselves. This decision is big.”
The $34.5-million plan will see two aging diesel generators in Whitehorse replaced with gas generators. They are expected to be up and running by the winter of 2015.
Yukon Energy makes a fairly compelling case for why it’s a good idea.
The corporation is mandated by the Yukon Utilities Board to have a back-up power supply available. Currently, that means burning diesel when there is a problem on the system or during peak times when demand exceeds hydro-power supply.
The old diesel generators are past the end of their expected lives and therefore must be replaced.
The switch to natural gas will cost maybe 10 per cent more than simply replacing the diesel engines, but ratepayers will save more than that in fuel costs within a couple of years, according to Yukon Energy.
The cost of natural gas is half that of diesel, including delivery to Whitehorse, said president David Morrison at a recent press briefing.
And it is a more environmentally friendly option, according to two independent life-cycle studies commissioned by Yukon Energy, he said.
Final results of one study and preliminary results of the other have been posted on the Yukon Energy website.
Both appear to show a preference for conventionally drilled liquefied natural gas over diesel from a greenhouse gas emission perspective.
Gas that has been extracted by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, results in even fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but consumes 30 times more water than conventional gas, according to one of the studies.
Yukon Energy has secured a contract with Shell Canada to purchase conventionally-drilled gas from a Calgary plant, said Morrison.
But it would eventually like to see the gas come from Fort Nelson, or even the Yukon, he said.
Most of B.C.‘s natural gas is now produced by fracking.
The Yukon Conservation Society has yet to be convinced that natural gas is better than diesel in any significant way, said Middler.
The investment in natural gas infrastructure represents a cost that would be better spent on developing renewable energy, said Middler.
“We would be investing tens of millions of dollars in new infrastructure that’s reliant on another fossil fuel. So why would we not just bypass that and do what we know we need to do, get us off fossil fuel and actually make a serious investment in renewable, viable alternatives like wind and solar and low-impact hydro and efficiency and conservation?”
Yukon Energy may be required to have a back-up power generation system, but natural gas is also anticipated to fill the increasing gap between demand for power and supply of cheap hydro.
The fact that natural gas is much cheaper to burn than diesel will lessen the incentive to invest in renewable energy, and ensure continued reliance on natural gas for peak power supply, said Middler.
Yukon Energy is bound by the Public Utilities Act and the utility board. That means it will take a great deal of political will and direction from the Yukon government to make a real move away from fossil fuel dependence, she said.
“What are we not doing because we put all of our eggs into this continued-reliance-on-fossil-fuels basket?
“As Yukon people, is that what we want to see happen, or do we want to take the step beyond fossil fuel and focus our energy on sustainability and renewable energy options? It’s happening all around the world, so we have to take part in this.”
Yukon Energy will hold a public meeting on its plans Monday evening from 4:30 to 8:30 at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre.
Consultants from the two companies who completed the life cycle studies will be in attendance to answer questions.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at