The Yukon Energy Corporation is expecting to rely more on liquified natural gas (LNG) to generate electricity this year due to low snowpack levels across the three watersheds that feed into the territory’s hydroelectric plants.
The situation is “unusual,” Yukon Energy president and CEO Andrew Hall said in an interview April 17.
While the corporation also noted low snowpacks over the past two winters, they were only isolated to one of the three watersheds each time — the Mayo watershed in 2017 and the Aishihik watershed in 2018.
“If we look historically, yeah, it’s very much you’ll get isolated events where a particular one of the three watershed may have low snowpack. It’s unusual to have all three, and the last time that happened was the late 1990s,” Hall said.
A Yukon government snow-water equivalent map released April 1 showed that most of the territory had received much less snow than usual — ranging from 24 to 82 per cent of the historical average — except for the Old Crow area, which received slightly more than usual.
Yukon Energy is predicting that it will be using LNG to generate between 50 to 100 GWh (gigawatt hours) of electricity this year to make up for the lower production expected from its hydro plants.
Overall, Hall said, Yukon Energy is predicting that it will need to generate a total of 450 GWh to meet the territory’s electricity demands for 2019.
That means LNG could account for between 11 to 22 per cent of the electricity generated.
Thermal electricity-generating sources — basically, the burning of LNG and diesel — accounted for only three per cent of the Yukon’s electricity in 2017, and eight per cent in 2018. The rest was all generated by hydro plants.
At this point, Hall said, it’s hard to tell whether low snowpacks across the board will become a regular issue in the future.
“What we’re facing today, (it’s) hard to tell. It could just be a isolated event, but we’ll only know looking back (at) what we have here,” he said, adding that Yukon Energy is doing work with Yukon College and the University of Quebec on the possible impacts of climate change on its activities.
If anything, Hall said, the Yukon is predicted to get warmer and wetter, but within that, to have more variability in its weather conditions.
Regardless, Hall said, Yukon Energy’s long-term focus when it comes to generating electricity continues to lie with hydro, with some small-to-mid-scale hydro projects being planned for the “long-term.”
Yukon Energy’s hydro system was also designed “to accommodate these low-water or drought years,” he added.
“We designed the system specifically … in anticipation that this will happen from time to time,” he said.
“It doesn’t happen that often, you know, you could say that multi-year droughts (happen) probably once every 20 years, based on history. So, if you look at the options available, something like LNG is quite cost-effective in managing that precipitation risk in a way, and our power rates or our power prices are calculated in a way that also (are) in anticipation of the way this is going to happen from time to time.”
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