Both acting NDP leader Kate White, right, and Yukon Party MLA Brad Cather are questioning why the Yukon government is considering the purchase of surplus power from B.C. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News files)

Opposition questions Yukon government’s plans to re-examine tying into B.C. power

‘What we’d really like to see is the evidence that these comments are based on’

Both opposition parties are questioning the Yukon government’s decision to re-consider tying the territory’s power grid into British Columbia’s.

Earlier this week energy minister Ranj Pillai said he had asked the Yukon Development Corporation to “engage in some high-level due diligence on the concept” now that B.C. has decided to go ahead with its $8.7-billion Site C hydro project.

Site C is expected to generate excess power when it is completed in 2024 meaning B.C. will be looking to sell.

Both acting NDP leader Kate White and Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers said the Yukon has already done reports on the idea of a transmission line linking the territory to B.C.

Those reports mostly focus on exporting power out of the territory, but a 2016 study concludes that neither imports nor exports are financially viable.

The cost of building the transmission line was pegged at $1.7 billion.

“My concern is the fact that this is an idea that was floated previously and then discarded as being not viable,” White said.

“So if this government talks about how they make decisions based on evidence, what we’d really like to see is the evidence that these comments are based on.”

Cathers said any new studies are likely to reach the same conclusions as the previous reports.

The 2016 report does not consider whether any federal funding might be available for the project. Pillai said any new line would need federal support.

But both Cathers and White think Ottawa could find better places to spend its money.

“If Ottawa is paying the cost, or a significant portion of it, there’s a lot that can be done with $1.7 billion to develop green energy locally that would produce more local economic benefit and provide a more reliable supply of power,” Cathers said.

In 2016 Yukon Energy came up with its own plans for meeting the territory’s energy needs. The cost of those plans ranges from $206 million to $458 million depending on how many mines are up and running in the territory.

Yukon Energy president Andrew Hall has said the plans will need federal contributions to keep the Yukon’s energy rates from increasing.

Yukon Energy’s plans only consider the company’s current grid and not communities like Watson Lake or off-grid mines that could, theoretically, be supported by a new transmission line.

White, who said she doesn’t personally agree with the Site C project, said building the 763-kilometre-long transmission line from Iskut, B.C., through Watson Lake and into Whitehorse would mean some power would be lost along the way.

“The longer distance a transmission line is, the more electricity is lost, the less effective it becomes,” she said. “If we’re going to talk a billion, up to $2 billion worth of investment, does that make the most sense for the Yukon?”

The previous report also notes that even if the Yukon did build the line to import power, backup diesel or natural gas would be required if the line ever went down.

“You’re effectively spending money not only on the transmission line but on generation capacity to be ready to respond if the line goes down,” Cathers said.

Pillai said the Yukon government has not approached B.C. Hydro to talk about what B.C.’s extra power might cost.

But Cathers is skeptical of the deal the Yukon could get.

“If the minister is under the illusion that he would be able to buy electricity from B.C. Hydro at a much cheaper rate than we can produce it, that’s entirely a pipe dream because B.C. Hydro is not a charitable organization,” he said.

“In every agreement they have with any jurisdiction to sell them power, B.C. Hydro makes money.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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