Skagway hydro project down but not out

Skagway's West Creek hydro project has hit a bump in the road to development. The municipality was hoping to get the Alaska Energy Authority to pony up some cash to conduct a feasibility study of the project.

Skagway’s West Creek hydro project has hit a bump in the road to development.

The municipality was hoping to get the Alaska Energy Authority to pony up some cash to conduct a feasibility study of the project. But although the utility recommended it be funded, it put West Creek near the bottom of the list for its renewable energy fund.

That means the chances of the municipality getting a feasibility study funded through that grant program are pretty slim, said Stan Selmer, the mayor of Skagway.

The municipality has tried for five of the last six years to get the Alaska government to pony up some cash to do the study.

It has put aside $84,000 for the project but needs an additional $236,000 to make the study happen.

But Selmer hasn’t given up hope.

“I don’t think the issue is dead,” he said.

Skagway, which wants to use electricity generated from West Creek to power cruse ships in the summer, isn’t the only government interested in the project.

In a recent meeting with the prime minister, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski touted the West Creek hydro project as a promising infrastructure initiative for the territory.

And he wasn’t the only one.

The West Creek project also figured prominently in the territory’s recently announced plans to look at installing a fibre-optic cable from Juneau to Whitehorse in order to feed the territory’s growing need for Internet bandwidth.

Yukon Energy has also expressed interest in the West Creek project.

With new energy-hungry mines coming online and most new commercial and residential construction opting for electric heat, the Yukon is facing a looming energy shortfall.

Yukon Energy is looking to liquefied natural gas to make up the difference, but only as a temporary fix.

At 25 megawatts, the West Creek hydro project is much more power than Skagway and the neighbouring municipality of Haines could use – especially in the winter, when cruise ships are few and far between.

The winter also happens to be when the Yukon needs power the most.

In addition, running a power line from Skagway to Whitehorse could potentially make other small-scale hydro projects along the route viable as well, said Michael Brandt, vice-president of Yukon Energy in a previous interview.

In June, the town signed a memorandum of understanding with Yukon Energy to work together on future energy projects.

This isn’t the first time that West Creek has been considered for its hydro-electric potential.

The Alaska Power and Telephone Company did a study of the site in the early 1980s, but 10 years ago a moraine collapsed and flooded the area, so there is some concern that the previous study may be out of date.

Preliminary talks between the Yukon and Alaska governments about this project have been ongoing, said Brad Cathers, the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

“This was the first year that we had conversations with the governor, but there’s interest in further discussions about this,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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