Secondary customers powered down

More than a week ago, Yukon Energy pulled the plug on its secondary sales customers. Since then, Whitehorse General Hospital, the Canada Games…

More than a week ago, Yukon Energy pulled the plug on its secondary sales customers.

Since then, Whitehorse General Hospital, the Canada Games Centre and Yukon College have burnt more than 272,000 litres of oil combined.

The hospital has seven boilers, which usually run on electricity, said spokesperson Val Pike on Monday.

But because it’s a secondary energy customer, when Yukon Energy’s power supply is maxed out, the hospital is cut off.

With no juice coming from the Crown-owned corporation, the hospital is forced to run its boilers on oil.

Each one burns up to 3,400 litres every 24 hours, said Pike. That’s 141 litres an hour.

To put that in perspective, an average home burns about 240 litres a week.

There are 23 secondary energy customers in Whitehorse, said Yukon Electrical Company customer services manager Craig Steinbach on Monday.

And all of them were cut off on December 16.

“The idea is when surplus energy is available on the grid, it’s offered to those who have subscribed at a reduced rate,” said Steinbach.

But when that surplus is not available, Yukon Energy has the right to shut off secondary sales — it’s in the contract, he said.

“Typically secondary sales are curtailed when the temperatures goes down and consumption goes up.

“However, from time to time, if there are generating units that are not available — either broken down or in need of repair — that’s another condition that would leave the grid short of power and they might shut off secondary sales.”

When Yukon Energy has capacity available and doesn’t need diesel generation to support the grid, secondary customers will get their power turned on, Steinbach added.

Last year, secondary-sales customers were cut off for about a week, said Yukon Electrical customer service supervisor Wendy Scramstad.

“I think it was less frequent last year than we’ve seen this year,” said Steinbach.

On October 22, secondary power was suspended. It wasn’t returned to customers until November 7 — 17 days later.

Steinbach could not predict when Yukon Energy would reinstall power following this second cut off, nine days ago.

Secondary power used to be cut off once the temperature dropped below minus 35, said Yukon Brewing president Bob Baxter.

“As secondary customers we’ve been used to it going out at 35 below, but this year, I’m guessing, it will be 20 or 25 below,” he said.

“And the reason for the change is that Yukon Energy is selling more power. And who are they selling it to? The (Minto) mine.

“There’s no question it’s the mine that has caused the secondary to be off,” said Baxter.

Luckily, Yukon Brewing doesn’t use its secondary power for heat, like most of the other secondary customers in town.

“We use it to make beer and we make most of our beer in the summer, when there’s no shortage of power,” he said.

But those who heat with secondary power experience a “double whammy,” said Baxter.

When it’s coldest, and they need heat the most, they lose power, he said.

Baxter doesn’t blame Yukon Energy for maxing out its power supply to light up Minto.

“Good on them, they want to have firm power buyers instead of selling it at a cheaper rate,” he said.

“In a way, they’re just doing their job.

“It’s a big challenge running a utility; they have to meet the demand five years from now, because that’s how long it takes to bring new developments on — they live and die by their forecasts.”

“We did a preliminary estimate on what would be the Minto mine load,” said Yukon Energy vice-president David McDonald in an October 14th interview with the News.

“It turns out the Minto mine load is not going to be as large as we thought.

“So there will, in fact, be secondary sales of additional hydro power that will be available for another year or so.”

If Yukon Energy gets maxed out, it turns on its diesels, said local climate-change expert John Streicker.

So, to keep the diesels off, it cuts power to its secondary customers.

But diesel oil is the backup for these secondary customers too, he said.

“So the problem is the same.”

Streicker would like to see Yukon Energy introduce smart meters to allow individual users to give power back to the grid.

“And these would only work with renewable energy sources,” he said.

“Because if you were running diesel you’d never compete with the big generators (at Yukon Energy).”

The power corp. could also set higher electrical rates during peak hours — before people head to work, and when they’re home again cooking and watching TV or using computers, said Streicker.

“This might encourage people to recharge their batteries at night, or set timers on their hot water heaters,” he said.

“This would even out the peaks, and push them into the valleys.

“It would mean we could squeeze a lot more capacity out of the 57 megawatts we have.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at