There will be no decision on a site for a next generation hydro project before the next territorial election, according to the Yukon government.
Brad Cathers, the minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation, said on Thursday that there are unresolved “issues, questions and concerns” about the six possible sites being considered by the development corporation’s board.
“We recognize that none of them have yet received the support they need,” he said.
Cathers said cabinet must now decide what the next steps will be.
“The basic options are to continue looking at some of the six sites … and to talk to First Nations about them, or to look at other sites that had not originally been considered.”
Those six sites were chosen by Midgard Consulting last fall, from an original list of more than 200 possible projects.
Three of those sites are on the Pelly River – one at Slate Rapids and Hoole Canyon near Ross River, another at Detour Canyon and a third at Granite Canyon near Pelly Crossing.
A fourth site is at Fraser Falls on the Stewart River and a fifth is at Two Mile Canyon on the Hess River, both east of Mayo.
The sixth site is at False Canyon and Middle Canyon on the Frances River, near Watson Lake.
The development corporation has held workshops and public events about the next generation hydro project since the fall of 2014.
During a briefing last week, Darielle Talarico, a consultant with Tipping Point Strategies, discussed the feedback from those events.
“There was some concern about the size of the reservoirs and the impact that these reservoirs would have on existing values that people hold … including what impacts that might have on salmon migration or other fish species,” she said.
She also said there is widespread opposition to the Fraser Falls site among Northern Tutchone people. The Selkirk First Nation has also passed a resolution against any hydro dam in its traditional territory.
However, Talarico noted there were few concerns raised about the Two Mile Canyon and Detour Canyon sites.
Still, it appears that none of the sites has enough public support to move ahead. Cathers said the government may decide to keep consulting with affected First Nations about those sites, or to go back and look at some of the earlier sites that were rejected for technical reasons.
The Yukon Development Corporation was originally supposed to recommend one or more hydroelectric projects to cabinet by the end of 2015, but the process fell behind schedule.
Now, Cathers says the board has completed its directive, even though it wasn’t able to recommend any particular project.
“We do acknowledge that this has all taken longer than originally anticipated,” he said. “Our focus is on getting it right.”
A summary of feedback from the public events has also highlighted “a lot of interest in exploring the possibility of a portfolio of renewable energy solutions” instead of a single, large hydro project.
Last fall, Midgard Consulting released a report showing that a portfolio of small-scale renewable energy projects with pumped storage could supply Yukon’s electricity needs for $270 per megawatt-hour, compared to $240 per megawatt-hour for a next generation hydro project. It would have a footprint of 20,000 hectares, compared to 18,000 hectares for a large-scale hydro project.
But Cathers said the small-scale solution would involve “more dams, more flooding and have more effect on a larger number of rivers.”
“None of them are perfect options,” he said. “We still think that as a long-term option, that a large-scale hydro project will probably ultimately end up being something that Yukoners will choose compared to the costs of other energy options.”
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