the green heat is on

The Yukon Housing Corporation website has a page, which shows the annual cost of heating an energy efficient home.

The Yukon Housing Corporation website has a page, which shows the annual cost of heating an energy efficient home.

It compares wood, pellets, propane, oil and electrical heating costs.

For those Yukoners who have oil furnaces, it should come as no surprise that oil heat is expensive.

But what is surprising is that, depending on the efficiency of the furnace and other factors, electric heat can cost almost the same as oil heat.

Of course, electrical rates do change.

But even the removal of the Rate Stabilization Fund, which essentially subsidizes the cost of electricity, might not detract from the attractiveness of switching from oil to electrical heat.

Now, before everyone runs out and installs electric baseboards or purchases plug in heaters, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

It is better to spend money on examining how well a home is insulated rather than throwing dollars at a new heating source.

Funds spent on getting an energy audit done will find heat loss sources in a home.

This will point the homeowner in the direction to save money, irrespective of how they choose to heat their house.

Depending on the energy audit, actions taken could include installing more attic insulation, replacing old windows with triple glazed types or even something as simple as weather stripping around doors.

Once that is done, then it is time to consider, or reconsider, how to heat.

If electric heat is a viable option, the best way to use it for heating is to install what is termed a heat pump.

Under normal conditions, it provides more heat energy than the electrical energy it consumes.

The positive thing about electric heat is that for the homeowner it is greenhouse-gas emission free.

That means no more carbon dioxide being released out of the home chimney whenever the oil furnace kicks in.

This gas is responsible for human-induced climate change.

But there is a warning to the self-righteous homeowner who follows the electric heat path.

During the deep winter months, Yukon Energy tends to run short of hydro-electric generating capacity.

This is because during the winter months the amount of water available for electrical generation decreases.

So if a lot of Yukoners switch over to electrical heat, Yukon Energy is going to have to fire up the diesel generators.

Thus the homeowner on electric heat is absolved of the climate change sin, but it has been merely transferred to Yukon Energy.

This scenario does not include the imminent hookup to the Yukon power grid of at least one hard-rock mine.

When that happens, even more power will be required.

Oil is not getting any cheaper, and given the very real concerns over greenhouse gases, there will be enormous pressure on Yukon Energy to not use fossil fuels for power.

More green, or at least non-greenhouse-gas emitting, power will have to be found.

This could include increasing the efficiency of existing turbines at the various dams, storing more water in the lakes over the summer months so it is available during winter, or even building more dams.

Before such drastic actions such as flooding a perfectly good valley to provide power, alternatives should be considered.

Power sources such as solar, geo-thermal, wind and micro-hydro have all not been fully examined to their full potential.

And before a large amount of utility ratepayers’ money is spent on any of these projects, there are fiscally prudent alternatives that should be examined.

The cheapest way to increase the amount of electricity available is for existing users to practise energy conservation.

By using less power, more existing power can be provided to others.

The realization that oil is ecologically damaging during its extraction and dangerous from a climate change perspective during its combustion is now well understood.

Toss in the fiscal realization that oil is now expensive, and will continue to increase in price, and there is going to be a massive jump over to electricity for heating purposes.

The challenge for everyone is to ensure that electricity comes from a non-fossil fuel source.

An even greater challenge is to ensure that the electricity used does not lead to such a drastic increase in demand that unnecessary and environmentally damaging capital projects, such as dams, are required.

For more information about the differences in the cost of home heating between oil and electricity, visit the Yukon Housing website. It is at www.housing.yk.ca/energycosts.html.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse-based part-time environmentalist.

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