Taxpayers’ dollars are being used to build a new turbine plant as part of the Mayo hydropower system.
Called the Mayo B project, it will provide an additional five megawatts to the Mayo-Dawson electrical grid.
This project will cost $142 million.
For five megawatts.
Let those figures sink in.
Each Mayo B megawatt costs over $28 million.
This is an unbelievable cost when compared with alternatives.
A one-megawatt wind turbine, paid for and installed in the Yukon, costs about $4 million.
Now the wind does not blow all the time, so it is often assumed that wind turbines are only 30 per cent efficient.
Doing the math means about seventeen wind turbines of one megawatt each would be required.
At 30 per cent efficiency they would provide five megawatts, exactly the same as Mayo B.
The capital cost for the 17 wind turbines would be $68 million.
That is half the cost of Mayo B.
No doubt similar alternatives such as run-of-river hydro projects, solar initiatives, demand-side management techniques and geothermal concepts could also meet equivalent energy requirements.
In comparison it would seem that a lot of money is being spent on Mayo B without any consideration of alternatives.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
The Canadian federal government is not very sympathetic towards alternative energy projects.
It recently axed an incentive program to fund wind turbine projects.
There is also the ‘boys and their big toys’ syndrome at play.
This ensures that projects involving lots of concrete and earth-moving equipment tend to be much more attractive than perceived touchy-feeling initiatives such as harnessing the wind.
Large construction projects are also showpieces for governments.
The economy is in a tailspin, but the government can clearly show the situation is in hand by pointing to the construction of Mayo B.
There will be lots of jobs and lots of money being spent in the Yukon.
It is a physical and visual reminder that not only is everything under control but it is under the control of the government.
Imagine if $142 million were used to improve energy efficiencies in each and every single house in the Yukon.
Assuming there are about 15,000 homes in the territory it would mean each household could get about $10,000.
Those funds could be spent as the homeowner sees fit to improve the residence.
It might mean adding insulation to walls and ceilings, perhaps replacing drafty windows, maybe even subsidizing the installation of heat pumps or solar panels.
This would drastically reduce the need for residents to pay a lot for heat.
The amount of electricity used might not go down that much, but the amount of furnace oil consumed and greenhouse gases emitted most definitely would.
These individual home-efficiency projects would have a huge economic benefit to the Yukon as local contractors and construction companies would be hired to do this work.
Local suppliers of material would also benefit.
As a bonus the dollars and work would be spread out across the entire territory.
Everyone, and every community, would benefit.
Instead there is going to be one very expensive, big construction project paid for with large amounts of public cash.
The end result is going to be a mere five megawatts of electricity.
Mayo B is a lot of taxpayers’ dollars being spent for a low amount of hydro power.
It has the potential to be the biggest waste of taxpayers’ money since the CANOL pipeline.
For those who require some background, the CANOL pipeline was built during the Second World War.
It ran from Norman Wells in the NWT to Whitehorse in the Yukon.
It cost $135 million in 1943 dollars, and appears to have consumed more oil to build than it shipped in its one year of operation.
An American investigative committee of the time considered it a colossal waste of time, effort and money.
One does hate to predict the future but on the Mayo B project the following will probably happen within the decade.
The auditor general’s office will review the costs and the results and then release a report.
In it they will most likely state that Mayo B is the most inefficient use of taxpayers’ dollars to provide energy in the Yukon since the CANOL pipeline.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.