Energy Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai insists the territorial government is well aware of the impact of climate change and is moving forward with renewable energy options.
“We understand the threat we have right now,” he said in an April 16 interview adding that research and work into those options takes time and the day-to-day efforts to get there aren’t always obvious.
“We understand the threat (as a result of climate change) we have right now,” he said.
Collecting data on wind is one example of that, he said, pointing to a project underway in Carcross. To get accurate information that may determine the possibility of future wind projects, the data collection stage alone is a total of two years.
Pillai was responding to comments made at the April 15 Whitehorse city council meeting by delegates J.P. Pinard and Yukoners Concerned chair Don Roberts who called for greater action by the city and territory to move towards renewable energy use.
Pinard is an engineer focused on wind energy while Yukoners Concerned is an organization that has been urging a move away from fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy.
As Pinard said he would like to see the half of the non-renewable energy used by the territory replaced with renewable energy sources by 2030.
There’s potential for hydro, wind and biomass, he said noting his interest in wind storage and pointing to a project being pursued by the Chu Níikwän Development Corporation to expand wind generation on Haeckel Hill.
Fire smarting efforts could not only address the potential for forest fires, but also create the wood waste required for biomass.
Raven Recycling is already using biomass energy at its Marwell location and the Teslin Tlingit Council is using a biomass boiler to heat 10 buildings in the community.
“The seasonality of forest fire work can compliment the winter fire-smart work that is needed to protect our communities,” he said. “All wood taken from fire-smarting can be the feedstock for your space heating needs. Both Raven Recycling and the Teslin Tlingit Council have proven that we have the technology and knowhow to burn local wood efficiently.
Pinard said all governments need to work transitioning to renewable energy.
“I am proposing to you to approach your First Nations government partners and reach a deal to help you meet your energy needs with their renewable resources.”
He went on to suggest the city should take a lead in creating a working group that could help “build the Yukon’s renewable energy economy”.
Roberts highlighted the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report released April 1 showing Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world with a greater impact being felt in the North.
“We are in a climate change emergency,” Roberts said, echoing the stance taken by a number of communities across the country — including Old Crow — which is to declare a climate change emergency next month.
“Yukon is experiencing dramatic and rapid temperature change and faces increased risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Roberts said. “Permafrost melting is degrading infrastructure. Environmental changes are stressing wildlife already challenged by the arrival of invasive animal, insect and plant species.”
Throughout his presentation, Roberts focused on the Yukon government, issuing an invite to Pillai to have a public meeting before the end of May “to discuss how and when the Yukon Government plans to transition — in a significant manner — to renewable energy.”
He also questioned the territory’s plans to access the federal Arctic Energy Fund.
“Another option, among many to publicly discuss, is legislation to commit Yukon Energy, in the development of future energy projects, to a target of 100 per cent renewable energy.”
Pillai said he has met with Yukoners Concerned previously and has outlined the work already underway to move to more renewable energy, stressing the process to get there.
The government has to have an Independent Power Production Policy in place before any renewable power produced can be sold back to the grid, he pointed out. That meant a process to draft that document.
Similarly, to access the Arctic Energy Fund, a framework has to be in place and then applications by project proponents have to be drafted to access the funding.
“There’s applications being prepared,” he said.
And then there are initiatives already underway — the purchasing agreement signed between ATCO Electric Yukon Ltd. and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation for the energy produced by the solar array owned by the First Nation. It’s anticipated that could mean some days during summer in the territory’s northern-most community that the diesel generators are turned off.
“We’re pretty excited for the project in Old Crow,” Pillai said.
Efforts are also underway at the Yukon Development Corporation to explore how renewable energy can be stored. There are a number of issues around snowmelt to consider when it comes to renewable storage. It may be that battery power will be required for storage, something that is being looked at.
“That’s the kind of work we’re trying to do,” he said
He also pointed out there are times when 98 per cent of the territory’s energy is being produced by renewable resources.
Though the Yukon’s not at a place to go rely completely on renewable resources just yet — the lights still need to come on in January, Pilli pointed out — he believes there will someday be an opportunity to go 100 per cent renewable as innovation and technology improves.
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