Power outages need to be investigated, opposition

Angry about power outages? There is one thing you can do. The last day to register as an intervenor at the Yukon’s Utilities Board hearing…

Angry about power outages?

There is one thing you can do.

The last day to register as an intervenor at the Yukon’s Utilities Board hearing next May is Friday, December 5.

The hearing will deal with the Yukon Energy Corporation’s rate application, but new concerns can be addressed during the public meeting.

It’s a rare chance for a regular citizen to voice their concerns directly to the guys behind the power bills.

And you might want to get organized, because the government has so far refused to do it for you.

During question period this week, Liberal MLA Gary McRobb asked the minister in charge of Yukon Energy, Jim Kenyon, if he was going to ask the board to include power outages in the hearings.

The question came after the Yukon’s ninth major outage of the year on Monday.

Instead of answering, the minister decided to give an update on the outage’s causes.

If the government isn’t calling on the utilities board to address the latest string of power outages, it isn’t using one of the few ways the public can hold the power providers accountable for their service, said McRobb.

“The easiest thing for the government to do is to ensure the upcoming hearings deal with this matter,” said McRobb.

The board has dealt with the issue before, in 1991, he said.

And the board has enough power to get to the bottom of any consistent problems.

“The board has got the power to look at all the outage reports,” said McRobb.

“It can order (Yukon Energy) to take action,” he said.

The board is the link between the government and the publicly owned Yukon Energy Corporation.

It’s the best way to ensure public accountability on the power provider, said McRobb.

“(The board hearings are) an independent process, and that’s the best way to deal with this,” he said.

The government also needs to update the infrastructure after the Minto mine has been hooked up to the system, he said.

“The government should be investing in improving the existing infrastructure. Instead it’s been adding to the infrastructure, which further places stress on the system.”

The Minto mine uses a lot of energy and increases the likelihood of something going wrong, he said.

But the Minto mine doesn’t seem to be behind Monday’s outage.

Yukon Energy is blaming a transformer at the Aishihik station for the outage, and the station has been turned off since. Six of the seven diesel generators at the Whitehorse power station and diesel generators in Faro have been turned on to make up for the loss of hydro power from Aishihik.

Yukon Energy did not return calls throughout Monday afternoon and Tuesday.

The outages need to be addressed, said McRobb, because they are bumping up power prices while service deteriorates.

The diesel rider on every power bill was meant to cover rising diesel prices in the last couple of years.

But the price of fuel has plummeted and the rider remains in place with no signal from the government that it is going to be removed.

The rider adds about 15 per cent to each customer’s bill and McRobb has his doubts about why the government hasn’t scrapped the rider.

“What I suspect is happening is that these power outages could extend the fuel rider which has already increased,” said McRobb.

Increased fuel usage because of increase power outages means a need to cover those larger costs, thus the fuel rider may stay in place.

Power bills have increased by 25 per cent, he said, and people are paying more for inferior service.

“People are getting pissed off about this,” he said.

Yukon Energy president and CEO David Morrison and chairman of the board of directors Willard Phelps are scheduled to be questioned by the Yukon legislature before the end of the fall sitting, said McRobb.

The meeting happens once a year and McRobb is prepared to get some answers then.

Some businesses underwent unexpected problems during Monday’s outage.

Northwestel wasn’t able to provide internet service for nearly an hour after the power was back on, said Anne Kennedy, the company spokesperson.

Northwestel’s internet equipment is powered by a set of batteries, which also act as surge protectors, she said.

“The battery acts as a filter in a surge,” she said.

“The surge is on one side, the incoming side, but on the other side there isn’t a problem,” she said.

“The equipment is very susceptible (to damage from surges,)” she said.

But something during Monday’s outage went awry and the company was forced to reset their consumer mass modem to get it back on.

They still haven’t figured out what happened, said Kennedy.

McRobb said he believes the outage could be due to an over-extended infrastructure, but the power system is too complex for anyone who doesn’t have the right details to figure out.

So even if Minto was only hooked up last week, conclusions shouldn’t be hasty.

“Putting the Minto mine on the grid was a good thing because it helps to finance the expansion of our infrastructure,” said McRobb.

“But the government could have also used some of the surplus money to direct toward the existing power infrastructure and there was nothing stopping them from doing that.”

The government is more interested in setting up photo opportunities, he said.

“It’s like getting extra chrome on your car when it needs some real work,” said McRobb.

Because of the system’s complexity, the outages would be best served by the experts at a utilities board meeting, he said.

“The board has the technical advisers and local intervenors with knowledge on such matters. And Yukon Electrical is consulted,” he said.

“I’m sure (Yukon Electrical) has some suggestions to be made.”

The process would allow the board to get to the bottom of the outages, said McRobb.

“I’ve been asking the government to have this included for over a year,” he said.

If the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation doesn’t do it, the minister of Justice also has the power to ask the board to look into the outages.

If the government fails to bring power outages to the utility board’s hearing, intervenors already registered to speak can raise the issue, such as the Utilities Consumers’ Group.

“An intervenor can ask, but it’s always better if (the hearing topic) is known in advance because then everything can be prepared to address the issue at the hearing,” said McRobb.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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