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Report shows renewables could replace new hydro

Small-scale renewable power could supply the Yukon's energy demand at roughly the same cost as a next generation hydro project, according to a new report prepared for the Yukon Development Corporation.

Small-scale renewable power could supply the Yukon’s energy demand at roughly the same cost as a next generation hydro project, according to a new report prepared for the Yukon Development Corporation.

The study was part of a suite of technical reports for the Yukon’s planned next generation hydro project released at a two-day workshop this week.

The reports also describe the final six sites being considered as possible locations for a large hydroelectric dam, and their price tags.

The Yukon Development Corporation also released the results of its transmission assessment, which found that it will not be economical to connect the Yukon’s electricity grid to British Columbia or to Fairbanks, Alaska.

But it’s the first report that’s perhaps the most surprising, since the construction of a large-scale hydro project has seemed like a foregone conclusion.

The study compared four energy scenarios that would fill the Yukon’s predicted electricity gap with different types of power: natural gas, next generation hydro, renewables or renewables with pumped storage. Renewable projects include wind, solar and small hydro.

All but the first renewables scenario would cost roughly the same amount - between $240 and $270 per megawatt-hour, the report found.

Using renewable energy without pumped storage would cost more, as it’s expensive to produce in the winter. Pumped storage would allow excess summertime electricity to be stored for use in the winter.

Both renewable scenarios would also require the use of a small amount of diesel or LNG power to meet peak demand in the winter.

But otherwise, there were no major differences between a next generation hydro project and small-scale renewables with pumped storage, except that the renewable scenario would involve a larger number of small projects.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Peter Helland, CEO of Midgard Consulting, the company hired to do the analysis. He added that there’s no single approach “that is clearly superior over the other.”

But it’s not clear whether these results will have any real impact.

Darielle Talarico, a public engagement consultant with Tipping Point Strategies, said the report was completed to put the next generation project in context.

“A lot of people have a lot of ideas about how we can meet that future need. And what we wanted to do was have a fact-based document… to refer to,” she said.

“This government would still like to pursue the next generation hydro option.”

Still, Anne Middler, energy analyst for the Yukon Conservation Society, said the general consensus at Thursday’s workshop was that participants would prefer to see the renewable option go ahead. She said the workshop was attended by First Nations representatives and non-governmental organizations, among others.

“It seems like there’s a great deal of momentum and desire to do that, to look at an alternative scenario.”

But Lisa Badenhorst, project director for the Yukon Development Corporation, said the corporation’s board still has to fulfill the directive it’s received from the government, which is to recommend “one or more hydroelectric projects” to the territorial cabinet.

Those projects will likely be chosen from among the six sites identified at the workshop this week. The sites have been selected from an original list of over 200 possible projects.

Badenhorst said the information about the six sites will go to the Yukon Development Corporation board for review in early 2016.

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 sites are east of Mayo.

The sixth site is at False Canyon and Middle Canyon on the Frances River, near Watson Lake.

The capital costs for the projects range from $847 million for the Granite Canyon site to $3 billion for the Slate Rapids and Hoole Canyon site.

The sites were chosen based on environmental and economic considerations, and on their ability to be scaled up over time, as energy demand grows.

Midgard estimates that the Yukon will need an additional 53 megawatts of electrical capacity by 2065. All six proposed projects would be in operation by 2035.

All of the sites have potential environmental and socio-economic effects.

Don Reid, a conservation zoologist with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, said the site on the Frances River might be the most appealing from a fish conservation standpoint, since it isn’t home to migrating salmon.

“But there will still be freshwater populations on that river that we don’t understand,” he added.

Reid has just published a new paper detailing the possible effects of large hydroelectric dams on fish and fish habitat in the Yukon. Overall, he said, it isn’t possible to build large hydroelectric dams without “major impacts” on ecosystems upstream and downstream.

He said freshwater fish populations need to be monitored and more information needs to be gathered from First Nations and local communities before any large project is planned.

Regardless of which site is chosen, however, it seems that exporting surplus energy to B.C. or Fairbanks is not in the cards.

The Yukon Development Corporation has released a report showing that a transmission line built to B.C. or Fairbanks would result in a net loss to the Yukon of $1.4 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.

“Both scenarios demonstrate significantly negative net economic benefits and are therefore uneconomic strategies,” said Helland.

Middler said she was “excited” by that finding, because it might encourage the Yukon to look more closely at a diversified local grid.

Contact Maura Forrest at