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Natural gas project one step closer to approval

Assessors have given preliminary approval to Yukon Energy's plan to replace diesel generators with ones that burn natural gas.

Assessors have given preliminary approval to Yukon Energy’s plan to replace diesel generators with ones that burn natural gas.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic assessment board released its draft screening report for the project yesterday, recommending that the project go ahead.

But the fight to stop the plan is not over, said Anne Middler, energy co-ordinator with the Yukon Conservation Society.

“YCS strongly disagrees with the result of this assessment, but we’re thankful that it is just a draft,” said Middler.

The society disagrees that natural gas is a better option than diesel both from an environmental and an economic perspective, she said.

The Yukon Conservation Society had asked assessors to look at the upstream impacts of natural gas use, including extraction, processing, liquefaction and transportation.

“We strongly believe that the fuel is the project, essentially, and therefore they really needed to have been looking at that.”

But the board declined the request, saying that what happens before the fuel gets to the Yukon border is not within its jurisdiction.

If the board had considered those impacts it would have come to a different conclusion about the project, said Middler.

A growing percentage of North America’s natural gas is produced through a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That process uses large amounts of water and according to critics poses an unacceptable risk of contaminating groundwater with toxic chemicals.

Yukon Energy has secured, at least for now, a frack-free source of natural gas in Alberta to fuel the proposed new generators.

But fracking is not the only beef the Yukon Conservation Society has with the project, said Middler.

“Fracking aside, just the processing of the natural gas fuel, the liquefaction, is so energy intensive and greenhouse gas intensive.”

And she’s not at all convinced that it will save Yukoners money on their utility bills in the long run, she said.

Yukon Energy’s projections assume that natural gas will stay cheap in the long run, and that Yukon will burn a lot of it, said Middler.

“The upfront capital cost of this project is very high, upwards of $40 million. For an emergency backup system that’s pretty extreme. That’s one of the reasons that we suspect and fear that this is not in any way intended to be exclusively for backup.”

The utility should instead be investing in renewable options, she said.

“This project will have really far-reaching ramifications for ratepayers, for the environment, for our ability to invest in renewable energy, which is what we know we need to be doing, as opposed to expanding and entrenching our use of fossil fuels, this project will be a barrier to the kind of energy development that we know needs to take place.”

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board will accept comments on the draft screening report through April 22. It will then develop its final recommendations.

The project must also be approved by the Yukon Utilities Board. The board will host a public hearing on March 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Westmark Hotel in Whitehorse.

Anyone who wishes to speak must register with the utilities board by March 28. The board will also accept written comments until March 31. More information is available on the Yukon Utilities Board website.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at